That’s “good morning” in Yoruba
Adenike and Yomi Saka left Nigeria in the 1990s and landed in the UK, where they’d go on to raise 2 boys: Abayomi and Bukayo.
Both had ambitions of becoming professional footballers, but it was Bukayo who fulfilled his, becoming a full England international at just 19.
Fast forward to the Euro 2020 final, England vs. Italy.
With the game locked at 1-1, a penalty shoot-out was required to determine the winner. And the deciding kick fell to young Bukayo.
He missed, meaning that England lost the final.
Almost immediately, Bukayo was subjected to racial abuse online. A painful reminder that — to paraphrase another player, Mesut Özil — he is English when England wins, but an immigrant when England loses.
No digital utopia
Bukayo joined the chorus of people calling out social media companies for “not doing enough”.
And, in a move reminiscent of his other country’s retributive tax action
against social media companies, the English prime minister warned that:
“Unless they get hate and racism off their platforms, they will face fines amounting to 10 per cent of their global revenues”.
But it is important to deconstruct what “doing enough” and “getting racism off” actually mean.
First, “getting racism off”.
Bukayo left Greenford High School in 2018. A study
conducted just two years later found that nearly all Black British children experienced racism while at school — nearly all.
Hold that thought while we talk about what “doing enough” actually means.
A day after the final, Twitter says it had deleted 1,000
abusive tweets. Earlier in the tournament, an independent report by Guardian UK identified 44
explicitly racist tweets directed towards the Black players in the England team — that’s 1,000 and then 44.
This, in a tournament that generated hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of tweets.
While there should be a zero-tolerance for racism and any racist post is one post too many, we mustn’t lose our sense of proportionality.
It is also important for social media sites to highlight the progress that they’ve made in tackling what is clearly a fringe activity, while also being transparent about where they are falling short.
Warning: Strong language
Because the problem of online racism isn’t sized properly, many of the proposed solutions end up seeming too broad.
Some have called for abusive posts to be pulled down instantly. But language is contextual. For instance, there’s a difference between:
"Bukayo Saka is my n***a”
“Bukayo Saka is a ni***er”
That’s why social media sites rely on a combination of their users, their employees, and machine learning to determine which is which.
Can this process be instant? No.
But can the process be quicker? Absolutely.
One other popular solution is banning anonymous accounts.
agrees with its efficacy, but also asks: “at what cost”? Not everyone anonymous on social media has malicious intent.
Besides, a lot of the abuse actually comes from real people with real identities.
A 50-year-old man was recently arrested
in the UK for racially abusing Bukayo’s Black teammate, Marcus Rashford, who’d also missed a penalty. He wasn’t a user with an egghead for a Twitter display picture but a well-known children’s football coach.
You see, asking social media to “get racism off” is to deflect attention from the real problem. If society does a better job of fighting racism, then we’ll see the results on social media, not the other way around.