Ofcom and the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, teamed up to analyse 2.3 million tweets published in the first half of the 2021-22 campaign.
The study found that nearly 60,000 abusive posts were directed at Premier League players in the first five months of last season.
Ronaldo received the most Twitter abuse of any player in the Premier League (Image: Alamy)Abusive tweets affected seven in 10 top-flight players, with half of the abuse directed at just 12 individual players – eight of whom played for United at the time.
Between August 13 and January 24, Ronaldo was sent the greatest number of abusive tweets – 12,520.
Maguire was second on the list, having been targeted with 8,954 abusive messages in the same period.
Marcus Rashford (2,557), Bruno Fernandes (2,464), Fred (1,924), Jesse Lingard (1,605), Paul Pogba (1,446) and David De Gea (1,394) also featured in the top 10, as did England internationals Harry Kane (2,127) and Jack Grealish (1,538).
The report also found that there were two peaks in the frequency of abusive tweets.
The first peak came on the day Ronaldo rejoined United from Juventus on August 27, with the second occurring after Maguire tweeted an apology to the club’s supporters following the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on November 7.
Maguire was one of 10 United players in the top 10 (Image: Alamy)But the study also found that the vast majority football fans use social media in a responsible manner.
Using new machine-learning technology to automatically assess whether tweets were abusive, a team of experts also manually reviewed a random sample of 3,000 tweets to provide further accuracy.
Of that smaller sample of tweets, 57 per cent were positive towards players, 27 per cent were neutral and 12.5 per cent were critical, with the remaining 3.5 per cent abusive.
Meanwhile, 2.6 per cent of the 2.3 million tweets analysed with the machine-learning technology were found to be abusive.
Dr Bertie Vidgen, lead author of the report and head of online safety at the Alan Turing Institute, says more must be done to tackle the issue of online abuse.
“These stark findings uncover the extent to which footballers are subjected to vile abuse across social media,” said Dr Vidgen.
“While tackling online abuse is difficult, we can’t leave it unchallenged. More must be done to stop the worst forms of content, to ensure that players can do their job without being subjected to abuse.”
Twitter has welcomed the research but claims the figures may have not taken into account safety features that the company has implemented to prevent abusive posts from reaching users.
“We are committed to combating abuse and, as outlined in our Hateful Conduct Policy, we do not tolerate the abuse or harassment of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation,” a spokesperson said, as reported by the BBC.
“As acknowledged in the report, this type of research is only possible because our public API is open and accessible to all.
“However, our publicly-accessible API does not take into account the range of safeguards we put in place, so this does not completely reflect the user experience.”