A new report has found that Manchester United duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire received more abuse on Twitter than any other Premier League players.

Abuse towards footballers has become an increasing problem in recent seasons, with the footballing world taking a four day social media blackout in the protest last year. The true extend of the torrent of abusive messages that top-flight stars face has now been revealed.

Ofcom have released a new report after analysing 2.3million tweets across the first half of last season. They found nearly 60,000 of those posts were abusive in nature, with seven in 10 Premier League stars targeted.

Half of those messages were directed at just 12 players, eight of whom were playing for the Red Devils. The Alan Turing Institute led the study, finding two major peaks in the frequency of abusive messages being sent.

The first of those peaks came on the day that Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was announced. News of the move generated three times more tweets than any other day, with 3,961 of them being abusive, 97 per cent of which were aimed directly at the attacker.

The second peak came on the day Maguire tweeted an apology following United’s dire home defeat to Manchester City. Maguire’s post saw 2,903 abusive messages sent, many of which contained insulting or demeaning language.

Maguire suffered the most abuse after apologising to United's defeat to Manchester City

Maguire suffered the most abuse after apologising to United’s defeat to Manchester City

The research found that Ronaldo received more than 12,500 abusive posts between 13 August 2021 and 24 January 2022, with Maguire sent more than 8,900 such messages. Marcus Rashford was sent the next highest amount, receiving just over 2,500 abusive posts.

The trio were joined in the top 10 by United team-mates Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and David de Gea. Jack Grealish and Harry Kane made up the final two spots, with the study having been launched as part of Ofcom’s preparation to regulate tech giants under new online safety laws.

In light of the study’s findings, Ofcom’s group director for broadcasting and online content Kevin Bakhurst sent a warning to social media companies. He slammed the level of abuse that had been allowed to rise up on the sites and promised the new laws will help to combat the issue.

“These findings shed light on a dark side to the beautiful game. Online abuse has no place in sport, nor in wider society, and tackling it requires a team effort. Social media firms needn’t wait for new laws to make their sites and apps safer for users,” Bakhurst said.

“When we become the regulator for online safety, tech companies will have to be really open about the steps they’re taking to protect users. We will expect them to design their services with safety in mind.

“Supporters can also play a positive role in protecting the game they love. Our research shows the vast majority of online fans behave responsibly and, as the new season kicks off, we’re asking them to report unacceptable, abusive posts whenever they see them.”

Ofcom executive Kevin Bakhurst fired a warning to social media companies in light of the report

Ofcom executive Kevin Bakhurst fired a warning to social media companies in light of the report

Twitter also welcomed the study’s research as they look to make their platform a safer place. The social media site did though point to a number of online abuse features it has already implemented to prevent those posts being seen by the individuals targeted.

“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 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.”