Rio Ferdinand opened up on his harrowing experience of racism on social media as he addressed parliament on Thursday morning.
Ferdinand was invited to share his views to the the Draft Online Safety Bill Joint Committee as the government ramps up its response to the vile abuse which is rife on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms.
The issue came to a head after England’s defeat by Italy in July’s Euro 2020 final, when Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were targeted by online trolls.
Ferdinand is a vocal advocate calling for regulations on social media to prevent anonymous accounts abusing footballers.
The former Manchester United and England defender was racially abused by a fan during a Premier League fixture last season.
Ferdinand has also been targeted online and shared his heartbreaking conversation with his children explaining what the monkey and banana emojis mean.
The 42-year-old told the Joint Committee: “A big impact when these social media messages come through online – the hate online – to you as an individual… a lot of us have children.
“I have to sit there and have breakfast with my kids and explain to them what the monkey emoji means in that context, what the banana means. ‘Why is there a banana under your (social media) post? What’s that about?’
“And me having to do that in this day and age when there’s AI (artificial intelligence) and resources available for these companies to be able to deal with these situations so that I, as a parent, don’t have to go down that road and explain that.
“You’d like to think that those people would put these things in place.”
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Ferdinand also warned how online abuse impacts the victim’s mental health, adding: “When you sit at home and you look on there and there’s negative discrimination and prominent for you to see, self-esteem and your mental health is at risk.
“And again, it’s not just about that person, it’s the wider network of that person and what it does to family and friends.
“I’ve seen members of my family disintegrate at times, I’ve seen other sports stars’ family members taking it worse than the actual person who’s receiving the abuse.”
Ferdinand is demanding social media companies do more to eradicate abuse on their sites by taking responsibility – rather than leaving it for the victim to block trolls.
“I think that’s an easy cop-out for the social media platforms when they put forward ideas like that,” said Ferdinand.
He added: “Online you can post a banana (emoji) and be fine. There are no repercussions. How can that be right?”