World football governing body, FIFA have published an independent report to coincide with the United Nations International Day for Countering Hate Speech on Saturday 18 June, highlighting the increasing degree of abuse directed at footballers across social media platforms during international tournaments.
With FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 beginning in exactly five months’ time, FIFA will work with FIFPRO – the worldwide representative organisation for professional footballers – to coordinate and implement a plan on how to protect participating teams, players, officials, and supporters from abuse on social media during its international tournaments.
The newly-released report, which used artificial intelligence to track over 400,000 posts on social media platforms during the semi-finals and finals stage of two international competitions (UEFA EURO 2020 and African Cup of Nations 2021), has identified that over 50% of players received some form of discriminatory abuse, with much of that abuse coming from the players’ home nation. Homophobic (40%) and racist (38%) comments provided the majority of the abuse, much of which remains published to the accounts in which it was originally directed.
In response, FIFA and FIFPRO will launch a dedicated in-tournament moderation service across men’s and women’s football that will scan recognised hate speech terms published to identified social media accounts, and once detected, prevent that comment from being seen by the recipient and their followers. Although the offending message remains visible to the person who originally made the comment, its visibility and reach will be significantly reduced.
The report also highlights that 90% of accounts flagged by the study as having published these abusive comments have a high probability of identification, and as hidden comments will remain privately visible to FIFA and FIFPRO, it also means that such account activity could be escalated to the relevant social platform(s) and law enforcement authorities so further action could be taken.
“Our duty is to protect football, and that starts with the players who bring so much joy and happiness to all of us by their exploits on the field of play,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino. “Unfortunately, there is a trend developing where a percentage of posts on social media channels directed towards players, coaches, match officials and the teams themselves is not acceptable, and this form of discrimination – like any form of discrimination – has no place in football.”
The FIFA President added: “With the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and FIFA World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 are on the horizon, FIFA and FIFPRO recognise it is important to make a stand and to include what is monitored on social media with what is already being monitored in the stadiums. We want our actions to speak louder than our words and that is why we are taking concrete measures to tackle the problem directly.
“This detection is not only there to protect football and to avoid the damaging effects that these posts can cause, but also to educate current and future generations who engage with our sport on social media as well as on the field of play. We expect that, by standing together on this problem, social media platforms will do the same and will actively support us in being part of the solution.”
“This collaboration recognises football’s responsibility to protect the players and other affected groups against the abuse they increasingly face in and around their workplace. This type of abuse has a profound impact on their personalities, their families, performance as well as on their overall well-being and mental health,” said FIFPRO President David Aganzo.
The FIFPRO President added: “Online abuse is a societal issue and as an industry we cannot accept that this new form of abuse and discrimination affects so many people including our players. Several player unions have carried out very good work on this topic which, connected to our recent report launched in conjunction with other player unions, gives us many insights when approaching this matter going forward. Research such as these reports is critical, but it must lead to action to provide prevention and remedy. We are glad that this cooperation with FIFA is a constructive step in this direction.”
Through this partnership, FIFA and FIFPRO will also develop educational support – including best practice advice for managing social media accounts – and mental health advice for all participating players at FIFA tournaments during 2022 and 2023 and will implement the moderation service while these competitions are taking place.