Kroll tech helps clubs and athletes combat social media abuse

27 April 2023 Consultancy.com.au 3 min. read
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The online abuse of sports stars is a growing and seemingly intractable issue, with the AFL among other organisations grappling for solutions. Cutting off the harmful content at its source may be one to consider.

The AFL and its wider community of stakeholders – and more importantly, those targeted – have suffered from a seemingly endless string of brainless racial taunts on social media in recent times, with little presenting in the way of a solution.

It’s right that the league and its clubs come out and denounce any such incidences of online abuse, yet by doing so they give oxygen to the hateful minority and invite the next sad troll in line who’s desperately craving attention.

Athletes who receive the most online abuse

Still coming to terms with historical onfield vilification – this year marks the 30th anniversary of Nicky Winmar’s famous stand at Victoria Park – finding a way to now deal with the anonymous digital world seems an intractable situation, giving a current sense of rinse and repeat. Ideally, all levels of society should be working towards stamping out racism altogether, but the AFL should also be working toward a more pragmatic solution which better protects its current crop of players.

Enter: Kroll’s technology

While no solution will ever be perfect in a world of instant, anonymous online comments at the click of a button, global risk consultancy Kroll has developed one tool to help tackle the issue. The firm was brought in by an English Premier League football club which had experienced a spike of 12 million social media comments over the course of six months and was dealing with heightened levels of harmful, post-match online posts, putting fan communities and players at risk.

The sheer volume of comments made it practically impossible for club staff to sift through each channel in search of malign actors, yet, using its real-time risk intelligence solution, Kroll could track the risk signals in digital chatter that posed a threat, removing harmful content within minutes and delivering instant alerts of online threats to the safety and well-being of players.

Within the space of one year, Kroll uncovered and removed more than 85,000 items of serious abuse.

But it’s an issue which is only intensifying, and will likely continue to do so. Kroll cites one BBC sports study from 2020 which found that almost one third of elite British sportswomen across 39 sports had been targeted by trolls on social media channels with “horrific” and “threatening” abuse, double the percentage from just five years prior.

Volume of content found on LeBron James' social media pages

Closer to home, one sixth of AFL players using social media say they are subjected to abuse and harassment on an almost daily basis.

“Ignoring the ‘noise’ is no longer an option for the sports industry,” the consultancy states in a recent white-paper. “Social media abuse has real-world consequences to athletes, fans and brands. Abuse can spiral out of control at any moment. An offensive and defensive game plan is the best action the sports industry can take to mitigate risks, identify bad actors in real time, and take decisive action to protect their talented athletes, fan communities and brand sponsors from harm.”

Fans will fan. But separating those letting off steam from genuine threats is a thankless task, with both the AFL and federal government taking steps to reduce online player abuse through public campaigns, internet safety training and legislation. With the nature of screenshots and embedded responses, it’s unlikely all offensive posts can be eliminated at the source, but a reduction in the cycle of such instances may at least make online sports forums less attractive to trolls.