Liverpool striker Mario Balotellii the most abused player in the Premier League report reveals
Liverpool striker, team-mate Daniel Sturridge and Arsenal's Danny Welbeck the most targeted players as new report reveals shocking levels of abuse received by players
Mario Balotelli has been targeted with more than 4,000 racist messages via social media this season, according to new research from anti-discrimination body Kick It Out.
Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck and Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge have also each received more than 1,000 discriminatory messages.
Overall, Kick It Out's research estimates there have been 134,000 discriminatory posts this season, and 39,000 of these directed towards Premier League players. The research was carried out by Tempero, a social media management agency, and analytics firm Brandwatch, and looked at specific case studies including Liverpool striker Balotelli, Welbeck and Sturridge.
More than 8,000 abusive messages were directed towards Balotelli, over half of which were racist, Welbeck 1,700, of which half were racist, and Sturridge 1,600, of which 60 per cent were based on sexual orientation.
The sheer volume of racist and other abuse on social media has prompted Kick It Out to form an expert group to tackle football-related hate crime across social media, working with football, the main social media platforms, organisations dealing with internet safety and the police.
Kick It Out director Roisin Wood said: "It is really shocking. We knew there was an issue but even we were shocked by how many the players have received. For one player to have received over 8,000 abusive messages is phenomenally awful.
"You cannot accept players getting that level of abuse so we want to bring this expert group together to see how we can address this.
"We don't see the problem going away. Some of the perpetrators are young people and they need educating that you cannot sit in your room and abuse people like this. It is also an issue for the social media platforms and how they address this."
The volume of hate messages directed towards Balotelli is a reflection both of his high profile and his own use of social media. There was a large spike in racist posts after he tweeted "Man utd ... LOL" when Manchester United were losing 5-3 to Leicester earlier this season.
It prompted an explosion of abusive messages, some of them using the most grotesque racist language, including that he should "eat bananas" and "get ebola".
Kick It Out only started receiving complaints of social media abuse during the 2012-13 season and has since started reporting the incidents to True Vision - a national reporting facility which had been developed to deal with hate crime online.
The research showed the Premier League clubs receiving the highest volume of discriminatory posts were Chelsea (20,000), Liverpool (19,000), Arsenal (12,000), Manchester United (11,000) and Manchester City (11,000).
Twitter was the most common platform for abuse with 88 per cent of messages coming in the form of tweets.
The games with the largest volume of discriminatory mentions relating to them were: Chelsea v Liverpool in the Capital One Cup on January 27, Sunderland v Manchester United in the Premier League on August 24 and Arsenal v Manchester City in the Community Shield on August 10.