Report reveals levels of social media abuse of players at FIFA Women’s World Cup

One in five players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup were targeted with discriminatory, abusive or threatening messages via social media, a study has found.

The levels of abuse are detailed in a report jointly released by football’s world governing body FIFA, and the global players’ union, FIFPRO.

The report — which can be downloaded here — reports on the Social Media Protection Service provided at the World Cup tournament co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia in July/August 2023.

The protection service team analysed 5.1 million posts and comments for abusive content, in 35 different languages, protecting 697 players and coaches actively using 2,111 accounts across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X and YouTube.

In addition, 239 active accounts held by 29 match officials and the 32 participating teams were also covered by this service.

Analysis found:

  • One in 5 players (152) at the FIFA Women’s World Cup received targeted discriminatory, abusive or threatening messaging.
  • Homophobic, sexual and sexist abuse accounted for almost 50% of detected verified abusive messages*.
  • Players at the FIFA Women’s World Cup were 29% more likely to be targeted with online abuse compared with players at the FIFA Men’s World Cup held in Qatar in 2022.

*Data derived from more than 20 million messages mentioning player handles (usernames) — 20 million at FIFA World Cup Qatar and 5.1 million at FIFA Women’s World Cup, making this the largest known comparative study of its kind, analysing men’s and women’s football.

The Women’s World Cup was the seventh FIFA event where the SMPS has been used since it was launched at the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022.

It has since been used at the FIFA U-17s World Cup Indonesia 2023, in which New Zealand participated.

FIFA says the protection service uses artificial intelligence (AI) to protect participants from online abuse, keeping their social feeds free from hate and allowing them to concentrate on their performance. It also stops their followers from being exposed to hate speech.

The AI tool monitors and moderates hate speech on social media, hiding harmful content from the players.

At the Women’s World Cup, 116,800 comments were hidden across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as junk, spam, discriminatory, abusive or threatening.

The two teams that were targeted the most were the United States and Argentina, the report says.

The match that generated the most abuse was the final in which Spain beat England 1-0, with 6,500 comments blocked by the protection service.

Gianno Infantino … ‘football has no place for discrimination.’

“There can be no place on social media for those who abuse or threaten anyone, be that in FIFA tournaments or elsewhere,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino.

“Through the Social Media Protection Service — which was introduced one year ago, with the support of FIFPRO — FIFA has helped reduce the exposure of players, teams and officials to online abuse and hate speech by reporting and hiding more than 400,000 comments.

“Discrimination has no place in football and no place in society. Together, we say: NO DISCRIMINATION!”

As part of the monitoring and moderation process, FIFA also shared relevant information with FIFA Member Associations and law-enforcement agencies to ensure there is no hiding place in the real world for those who are abusive in the virtual one.

FIFPRO President David Aganzo said: “The abuse that persists online impacts football players all over the world and it cannot be ignored. This toxic online environment is a risky place to be in for players, and it affects their mental health and wellbeing.

“Football has a responsibility to protect the players around their workspace. Therefore, as FIFPRO and FIFA, we continued our collaboration to provide preventative measures at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

“However, we cannot do this alone. Football needs all stakeholders to play their part if we want to create a safer and better environment for everyone.”

FIFA’s No Discrimination campaign is run in partnership with United Nations Human Rights (OHCHR).

UN Human Rights (OHCHR) Chief External Outreach and Partnerships, Astrid van Genderen Stort, said: “We welcome FIFA’s zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, with the Social Media Protection Service being an important tool to help address online abuse against players and officials.

“We invite all sports entities to engage in the battle against all forms of online abuse, and look forward to our continued collaboration with FIFA.”

Main photo credit: FIFA.

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