AI Is Newest Tool in Helping Athletes Block Racist Abuse

Companies offer filtering technology as offensive content proliferates on social media
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 7, 2023 10:50 AM CDT
Athletes Turn to AI to Block Racist Abuse Online
Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior, left, confronts Valencia fans as Valencia's Jose Luis Gaya reacts during a soccer match in Spain on May 21. Vinicius Junior has faced relentless racist insults that underscore an entrenched and decades-old issue in the world's most popular sport.   (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz, File)

Social media allows athletes to reach out to fans and market themselves. But it's also where racism is "visual, permanently intrusive, and 24/7" as anonymous people troll players with "barely any accountability," the AP reports. It's all too much for some Black athletes, who are turning to artificial intelligence tools to shield them. GoBubble, a company offering AI technology that filters out harmful messages on social media, counts customers "from the Premier League down to the fourth division in English soccer, around Europe and in Australia," per the AP. Founder Henry Platten says he's heard from players whose performances on the field suffered due to mental health issues.

"Every time it happens, it knocks you back and floors you," Nedum Onuoha, a retired Black soccer player, tells the AP of abuse he suffered. "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, owner of Instagram and Facebook, says it takes action against racist abuse "whenever we find it, and we've launched several ways to help protect people from having to see it in the first place."

But some say big tech companies—in the business of "keeping a large user base for revenue purposes"—aren't doing as much as they could to counter racist abuse, per the AP. Twitter failed to delete 99% of racist tweets directed at soccer players in the week before the 2022 FIFA World Cup, including numerous tweets that used the n-word, the Guardian reported. Hence the need for comment-filtering AI software from companies like GoBubble and Bodyguard. The French Tennis Federation offered Bodyguard's technology to all players in the French Open this year.

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But it's not a real solution, according to US tennis star Sloane Stephens, who's Black. Racist abuse has "obviously been a problem my entire career" and it's "only gotten worse" as "people online have the free rein to say and do whatever they want behind fake pages," she says, per the Independent. "The biggest change will likely come through legislation," the AP reports, noting the European Union's Digital Services Act threatens to slap billions of dollars in fines on big tech companies that fail to protect users from harmful content. In Britain, the similar Online Safety Bill proposes fines of up to 10% of social media platforms' annual global turnover. (More racism stories.)

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