The Latest Addition to Combat Racial Abuse in Sports: AI Assistance for Athletes

Social media presents opportunities for athletes to market themselves and connect with fans. However, racism on these platforms can be “visual, permanently intrusive, and 24/7” due to anonymous trolling with little accountability, as the AP reports. Many Black athletes are using artificial intelligence tools to protect themselves from such abuse. GoBubble, a company offering AI technology that filters harmful messages, has users “from the Premier League down to the fourth division in English soccer, around Europe and in Australia,” according to the AP. Founder Henry Platten says that players have reported mental health issues related to their performance on the field due to abuse received online.

“Every time it happens, it knocks you back and floors you,” says Nedum Onuoha, a retired Black soccer player, on his own experience with racist abuse. “Just when you think everything is OK, it’s a reminder that it’s not. It’s a reminder of how some people actually see you.” According to the AP, racist abuse “is spiraling out of control on platforms where anonymity is the golden ticket for racists.” Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, claims to take action against racist abuse and support victims by offering protection.

However, some argue that big tech companies, mostly interested in “keeping a large user base for revenue purposes,” are not doing enough to counter racist abuse on their platforms, as per the AP. During the week before the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Twitter failed to delete 99% of racist tweets directed at soccer players, including numerous tweets that used offensive language, as reported by the Guardian. This demonstrates the need for comment-filtering AI software, such as that offered by GoBubble and Bodyguard. The French Tennis Federation provided Bodyguard’s technology to all players in the French Open this year.

However, according to US tennis star and Black athlete Sloane Stephens, using AI technology is not a real solution to the problem. Racist abuse has impeded her career and is only getting worse, as anonymous individuals can say and do whatever they want behind fake pages. She believes that the biggest change will come through legislation. The AP reports that the European Union’s Digital Services Act threatens to impose fines on big tech companies which fail to protect users from harmful content, while the Online Safety Bill in Britain proposes fines of up to 10% of social media platforms’ annual global turnover. (Read more racism stories.)


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