Harry Kane most abused England player on Twitter since World Cup started

Harry Kane was the most abused England player on Twitter during the World Cup group stages, accounting for nearly three out of 10 negative tweets directed at team members.

England players were sent 1,546 abusive tweets during the group stages of the World Cup, according to analysis by the Alan Turing Institute, accounting for 2% of the more than 75,000 tweets mentioning players for the national team.

The institute’s online safety team found that 13% of those abusive tweets – or 205 posts – contained keywords that referred to a protected characteristic such as race, gender or sexuality.

The England captain received the most abusive posts, being tagged in 426 abusive tweets that made up 28% of the total of negative posts sent to players’ Twitter handles during England’s three group games.

Anger at the decision that Kane should not to wear a OneLove armband was a frequent theme in the abuse content directed at him during the 6-2 win over Iran, the institute said. The next most abused players during the group stages were Mason Mount and Harry Maguire, receiving 167 and 152 abusive tweets respectively.

Hannah Kirk, a researcher at the institute, said abusive tweets correlated with moments when “the stakes are high”, which could influence the online behaviour of fans as England progress through the tournament.

“Disappointed fans are likely to cross the line from criticism to abuse when the stakes are high and emotions are running high,” said Kirk. “As we move to the knockout stages, maybe we will see that kind of rage pitched at England players, depending on the scorelines and how they’re progressing through the tournament.”

Referring to the Kane abuse, she said: “It might be something to do with him taking a bigger brunt of the abuse in his role as captain, like bearing the weight of the team and how they’re performing on the pitch.”

Negative tweets directed at England players reached a peak during the 0-0 draw with the USA, according to the analysis by the institute, which is the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence. Nearly 5% of tweets sent during the match were abusive, compared with 1.5% for the games against Iran and Wales.

The Chelsea midfielder Mount was the most heavily targeted player during the USA match, in which England’s performance was widely criticised, with his Twitter handle accounting for more than one in 10 of the negative tweets.

Marcus Rashford received the most negative tweets during the 3-0 victory over Wales, despite his outstanding performance in the game, although he received a comparatively low number of derogatory messages – 39 – out of the nearly 5,000 that he received during the game.

The study defined an abusive tweet as a message that tags a player’s Twitter handle and threatens, insults, derogates, dehumanises, mocks or belittles a player, including with slurs and negative stereotypes, as well as excessive use of profanities.

The analysis by the institute’s online harms observatory, using an AI model, follows a study by the same team into Twitter abuse of Premier League players published in August. Despite fears of an increase in hate speech on Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk buying the platform in October, the World Cup analysis showed a close correlation with the Premier League research, which looked at the first half of the 2021-22 season, with 2.6% of the Premier League tweets being abusive, compared with 2% in the World Cup. The World Cup study did not check whether the abusive tweets were taken down or demoted.

In the Premier League study, the top 10 of abused players was dominated by members of the Manchester United squad, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Maguire first and second respectively. Tottenham’s Kane was fifth. Twitter has been contacted for comment.