Not long after England’s heartbreaking defeat on penalties in the Euro 2020 final, a mural of Marcus Rashford was defaced with abuse.
The work, by street artist Akse, is on a wall in the Withington area of Manchester where Rashford grew up. It was commissioned in recognition of his laudable campaigning on food poverty.
Were we back in time, contemplating England's Euro 96 loss, the daubing of vile graffiti would be one of the few ways for low life to express their opinions.
But in this advanced age of social media, imbecilic views have a platform much bigger than a backstreet wall and those holding them can directly target whoever they have in their (virtual) crosshairs.
Within minutes of England’s defeat, Rashford, along with his fellow England players Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were being subjected to a torrent of sickening racial abuse online. The sad thing is, when they picked up their phones after the match it would have come as no surprise, having experienced it before on a lesser scale.
What can be done? The government has pledged action through its Online Safety Bill. If passed, platforms will need to adhere to a duty of care for their users with fines of up to 10% of global revenues for those that fail to do so. The Times is reporting that ministers want tech giants to “immediately hand over details of the racists who abused England players so the government can make examples of the perpetrators”.
Certainly, if the platforms applied as much energy to stamping out racism as they do to selling stuff, more progress would have been made in this area.
Advertisers can play a role by using their influence and buying power to push for change as well.
Campaign is also exploring the debate and asking whether the time has come for social media firms to verify their users as a way to combat anonymous abuse.
There has also been some good news. Drowning out the racism in the immediate aftermath of the Euros penalty shoot-out has been an outpouring of love and positivity directed at those players who were brave enough to step up on Sunday night.
Rashford’s powerful yet humble statement about missing his penalty that he put up on Twitter has amassed almost a million likes in less than 24 hours.
One particularly moving response that stuck out for me came from a user who said he had joined the site that day specifically to offer the player his support.
While there are many faults with social media, its ability to bring down barriers and connect people in this way is second to none.
(As an aside, it would also have been much harder pre-social media for Tyrone Mings, another England footballer, to instantly call out Home Secretary Priti Patel for rank hypocrisy.)
You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens. https://t.co/fdTKHsxTB2— Tyrone Mings (@OfficialTM_3) July 12, 2021
The Sun’s splash on Tuesday morning told Rashford, Sancho and Saka that “We’ve got your back” but they don’t need to learn this from a national newspaper that’s hardly been a beacon for anti-racism down the years. They can see that in their own social feeds.
And what of the mural? Online and real life are united as one as the abuse has been covered up by hearts and messages of love.
Gemma Charles is deputy editor of Campaign