Protecting Players Online
Since 2015, the PFA has been openly calling for players to be better protected online. We believe social media is an extension of a professional footballer's workplace, with many players using their profiles to promote their club and commercial interests.
However, the anonymity of social media networks and a lack of proper protocol makes it very difficult to identify, sanction and eradicate perpetrators who choose to abuse players.
Following the launch of our #Enough campaign in 2019, football's stakeholders met at Wembley and identified machine learning as a potential method to capture, analyse and quantify online abuse.
In 2020, we commissioned a pilot study with data-science company Signify Group. Signify used machine-learning systems to analyse messages sent publicly via Twitter to 44 high-profile current and former players from across the top divisions of English football during 'Project Restart'.
During the six-week period, Signify analysed 825,515 tweets directed at the selected players, identifying over 3,000 explicitly abusive messages. 56% of all the discriminatory abuse identified during the study was racist. The study also found:
- 43% of Premier League players in the study experienced targeted and explicitly racist abuse
- 29% of racially abusive posts came in emoji form
- 50% of the total online abuse recorded was received by just three players, who called out racial abuse during 'Project Restart'
The damning data in the report provided tangible evidence that an overhaul of current social media policies was necessary. This led to the PFA calling on football's stakeholders to come together and:
- fund a centralised AI-driven system to proactively monitor abusive users across social media platforms
- identify abusers, and then pursue real-world consequences including prosecutions, stadium bans and suspensions within amateur and grassroots football
- pressure social media platforms to commit to more proactive interventions and stronger repurcussions for abusive posts
- call on social media platforms to address the use of emojis as a form of abuse
After the success of the pilot study, the PFA announced a longer-term study with Signify in 2021.