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'I'm caught up in this web of online hate' – Irish sprinter Leon Reid opens up about social media abuse

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Irish athlete, Leon Reid, pictured following the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’. See details below. Photo: Inpho/Dan Sheridan

Irish athlete, Leon Reid, pictured following the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’. See details below. Photo: Inpho/Dan Sheridan

Irish athlete, Leon Reid, pictured following the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’. See details below. Photo: Inpho/Dan Sheridan

Irish sprinter Leon Reid has revealed how he has become a target for racial abuse on social media.

He wants social media companies to clamp down on fake accounts to contain the problem.

But it’s not just online trolls the 26-year-old English-born athlete, who now represents Ireland, has had to cope with.

“Yesterday an American I met in a hotel in Madrid said to me be ‘How can you be Irish, you are black’? So, it is still going on today. It’s a bit crazy,” he revealed.

Reid who will run in the 60m at the European indoor championships in Poland next month was speaking at the launch of an anti-hate speech campaign being spearheaded by Team Ireland athletes.

Collectively the athletes have taken a stand against online hate speech with the launch of a campaign called ‘Don’t Scroll By’.

It calls on the public and sporting stakeholders nationwide to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to online abuse, discrimination and hate speech, and to #DeleteBanReport any of this type of commentary they witness online.

Reid said that he experienced an increase in online abuse when he announced he was switching allegiance from the UK to Ireland.

“It was ‘you’re not Irish, you don’t have an Irish accent and then it would be like ‘you can’t be Irish because you are black’ and just small things like that. People were saying ‘you are only doing this to ease your way out of GB’ and stuff like that.

"My mum was born in Ireland and my adoptive mum is from Southern Ireland. It’s a bit annoying to have to repeat yourself but it’s just those little comments nick away at you.

“It did grow when I said I wanted to switch. It’s all the fake accounts that just pop everywhere. You can just tell they’re got no followers. And I’ve said this before: it could be a guy sitting next to me and I would never know.

“He could be like: ’You’re not even Irish, you’re black, you shouldn’t run for the country, you’re a disgrace all of this.’ It kinda all built up to the switch (to Ireland). After that I was able to delete the accounts, block them or ignore them. I just try not to give anybody a bit of time who is not positive.”

Reid acknowledged he is not unique in terms of being of victim of online racial abuse. He referenced the case of former England striker Ian Wright as an example.

“It goes straight to the top all the way down to the bottom. So, I’m caught up in this web of just fake people sending online hate,” he said.

He believes the social media companies needs to make it mandatory for anybody setting up a social media account to first produce and verify their identification.

“Anyone can send you hate mail in ten seconds. They don’t need verification or anything. I can block you, but they can just set up another account in ten seconds. It is literally that easy to troll somebody.”

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