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 By PA Sport

Balotelli targeted by 4,000 racist messages on social media - report

Kick It Out estimates 134,000 discriminatory messages have been sent this season, with more than 8,000 directed at Liverpool's Balotelli.

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 a thousand 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.

KICK IT OUT FINDINGS

* Mario Balotelli has received 8,000 discriminatory messages on social media and more than 4,000 of these were racist.

* Danny Welbeck has received 1,700 discriminatory messages of which half were racist.

* Daniel Sturridge has received 1,600 discriminatory messages of which 60 percent were based on sexual orientation.

* 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).

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 told Press Association Sport: "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."

Italy manager Antonio Conte spoke after his side's 1-1 draw with England about Mario Balotelli's playing time with Liverpool.

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.

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 games with the largest volume of discriminatory mentions relating to them were: Chelsea vs. Liverpool in the Capital One Cup on Jan. 27, Sunderland vs. Manchester United in the Premier League on Aug. 24 and Arsenal vs. Manchester City in the Community Shield on Aug. 10.

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