Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire have received the most Twitter abuse of any Premier League players, a new report has found.
Ofcom analysis of 2.3 million tweets in the first half of last season found nearly 60,000 abusive posts, affecting seven in 10 top-flight players.
Half of that abuse was directed at just 12 individuals – eight from United.
However, the study by the Alan Turing Institute also found the vast majority of fans use social media responsibly.
“These findings shed light on a dark side to the beautiful game,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s group director for broadcasting and online content.
“Online abuse has no place in sport, nor in wider society, and tackling it requires a team effort.”
The report identified two peaks in the frequency of abusive tweets.
The first came on the day Ronaldo rejoined Manchester United on 27 August 2021, generating three times more tweets than any other day (188,769), of which 3,961 were abusive. At 2.3%, that is marginally lower than the daily average.
The volume of posts can largely be accounted for because of Ronaldo’s 98.4m followers. On this day the Portugal forward was mentioned in 90% of all tweets aimed at Premier League footballers and 97% of abusive tweets.
The second peak came on 7 November when defender Maguire tweeted an apology following Manchester United’s 2-0 home defeat by Manchester City.
On that occasion, 2,903 abusive tweets were sent – 10.6% of the total that day – with many users reacting to Maguire’s post with insulting or demeaning language.
The report also found a duplicated tweet – using the same exact phrase – was sent to Maguire 69 times by different users within two hours.
The study says “it is possible that this duplication occurred because users saw the abusive message and decided to replicate it – indicating organic organisation rather than coordinated behaviour”.
The Alan Turing Institute said that understanding the organisation of online abuse is of increasing interest given the harm caused by co-ordinated attacks and “pile-ons”.
Other players were targeted by large volumes of abuse following a “trigger”, despite receiving relatively few tweets overall.
Newcastle defender Ciaran Clark, now on loan at Sheffield United, was sent off against Norwich in November, with 78% of the abusive tweets he received coming on this day.
Meanwhile, Crystal Palace’s James McArthur was also the subject of a spike in abuse after being yellow carded for stepping on Bukayo Saka against Arsenal in October.
Researchers will also look at whether a spike took place when an incident that saw West Ham defender Kurt Zouma kicking and slapping his cat came to light, as that took place after the data was collected.