Monitoring software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) found almost 20,000 abusive social media posts were aimed at players, officials and coaches during the Qatar World Cup, according to a new report released by FIFA.
In total, 20 million posts and comments were analyzed across all major social media platforms, successfully verifying the identity of 306 account owners that sent abusive messages.
The report – carried out in conjunction with global players’ union FIFPro – says FIFA will work with law enforcement “to submit evidence packs to build cases where abusive messages have passed criminal thresholds.”
The system, called the social media protection service (SMPS), monitors and hides abuse from players and will also be available for teams, players and coaches to use at the Women’s World Cup, which begins on July 20.
The software also analyzed the accounts of national teams, former players and media members. In total, 434,000 posts were flagged by AI and reviewed by humans, the report said, with the abusive messages coming from 12,600 different accounts.
Additionally, the software also hid 287,000 abusive comments before they were seen by the intended recipient.
“Players don’t speak out much about how online abuse affects us,” Canada Men’s National Team defender Mark-Anthony Kaye said.
“There’s stigma. As professional athletes, we don’t want to admit this could hurt us, or that we even notice it. But we’re all human. It’s not as easy as “just tuning it out.” It hurts. It hurts our families.”
Of the abusive messages, 38% came from Europe, 36% from South America, 10% from Asia, 8% from Africa and 8% from North and Central America. Sexism made up 13.7% of the abuse, homophobia 12.16% and racism 10.7%.
When grouped together by country – all players, teams and official member association social media handles – France received the most abuse, with England in second and Brazil third.
England’s quarterfinal clash against France, in which England striker Harry Kane missed a crucial penalty, had the biggest spike in abusive messages of any match at the World Cup, registering a combined 13,000 reported and moderated posts and comments across all social platforms.
“I know there’s a competitive edge in the game, but I think the things that have been said online go far beyond that, especially when you’re talking about families or something that cuts a little bit deeper than just actual play,” US Men’s National Team player Kellyn Acosta said.
“I think it needs to stop and our voice needs to be heard that we’re people as well.”