Criticism, insults, threats… faced with online hatred, how high-level athletes try to protect themselves

Criticism, insults, threats... faced with online hatred, how high-level athletes try to protect themselves

The selections are increasingly calling on mental trainers to better understand all the pressures linked to the event. TEAMSHOOT TEAMSHOOT – Stéphane Pillaud

An Arcom study reveals that 53% of sports fans active on social networks admit to having already published a critical or even insulting message towards an athlete. Five months before the Olympics, strategies are being put in place to preserve the athletes.

At the same time as he appears, the champion exposes himself. When entering the arena, the athlete knows that he can cover himself with laurels or jokes. An intangible truth that goes back in Antiquity. Today, smartphone in hand, it opens up the field of possibilities but also broadens that of nuisances on increasingly antisocial networks.

Insults, harassment, threats: high-level athletes and amateurs alike cannot escape the infernal spiral of online hatred. According to a study by Arcom (regulator of audiovisual and digital communication), unveiled at the end of January,  53% of sports fans active on social networks admit to having already published a negative message towards an athlete.

40% of French people consider this exposure normal

These are mainly men (60%) who are rather young (64% aged 15-34), living in large towns (64%). More worrying in this profile, 44% come from higher socio-professional categories. The study raises ambivalence among respondents since 79% of 15-34 year olds consider it important to protect athletes but 40% consider it normal for them to be exposed to it "in return for fame".

Weary, wrung out by this torrent of hatred, certain renowned athletes like the tennis player Corentin Moutet or the ex-footballer Thierry Henry at one point took the radical decision to deactivate their accounts. Brazilian international Willian terminated his contract with Corinthians de São Paulo because of the recurring threats he was the target of on the networks.

Photos hijacked by other athletes

Even loaded with medals, Martin Fourcade, five-time Olympic Biathlon champion, admits to having suffered from it. "Some times, the situation was difficult and m&#39 ;has served, particularly at the Olympic Games which are long, very exposed, tiring events and where on three occasions, I ended up sick", the Catalan confided to our colleagues at France Info.

"The ambiguity comes from the fact that the athlete seeks exposure but this is amplified by social networks in a sort the other side of the coin", explains Philippe Salas, psychologist and physical trainer at Creps de Montpellier who also mentions"young people marked by misappropriated photos, sometimes posted by other athletes".

"Working on the fear of failure, the view of others" 

"We have not implemented specific measures, continues the psychologist. First a recommendation for moderate use to avoid altering the quality of sleep."

Also read: Online hatred against athletes: "it can go as far as death threats, it's limitless."

For the rest, experience must do its work:"When you play in a 60,000-seat stadium or in front of millions of viewers for the first time, it can be complicated. The exposure must be progressive, prepared. You must give meaning to what you are looking for, know what you are chasing, work on the fear of failure, ;nbsp;the look of the other."  

Tennis and football on the front line

An individual sport where betting is numerous, tennis is one of the most impacted by this online hatred. But an average of three professional footballers per team would see their performance affected by this abuse.

Bodyguard, the Nice sentinel application for athletes

Threats, racist, misogynistic, homophobic insults, harassment, spam and scams. Whatever hateful content is posted on a site or messaging service, the Bodyguard application allows you to filter and eliminate it. The free version launched in 2018 for individuals will be suspended to be offered again by 2025. For the moment, this application created in Nice is aimed at businesses. « We can act at several levels, explains Charles Cohen, Chief executive officer. Moderation of company content, connecting their communities together to protect them, acting on their own platforms such as the chat attached to a video game for example. »Reference in terms of brand, sport and media protection, Bodyguard is based on in-house technology, powered by linguists, » regularly updated to follow the latest trends, combined with machine learning and artificial intelligence. We are able to move very quickly into crisis mode when an athlete or journalist is particularly targeted and to strengthen the moderation of their accounts,” assures Charles Cohen. The boss of BodyGuard nevertheless wants to demonize social networks: « 10% of content is hateful about sport but between 30 and 50% remains positive. On the other hand, concerning sportswomen, it’is often even more virulent… »

In this context, the Professional Football League (LFP) and several clubs are calling on the Nice start-up Bodyguard. Created in 2018 for individuals, this application, extended to the field of businesses, automatically detects and removes toxic content from social platforms, whether it is threats, social media, social media or other content. racist, misogynistic, homophobic insults, harassment, spam and scams.

An application to filter messages

"Our technology performs real-time contextual analysis in 40 languages", explains Charles Cohen , Chief executive officer of Bodyguard, which employs 45 people. "She manages to differentiate between criticism and insult to mask the insulting remarks".

At Roland Garros, Bodyguard was able to detect "up to 80% toxic content in post-match messages from some players". Since 2023, the tournament has used the application to protect players. And the Nice company could well be present this summer at the Paris Olympics.

"We have been asked, confirms Charles Cohen. There are ongoing discussions and I hope to be able to announce signings by March." 

"At the Olympics everything is tenfold"

Because the pressure of the event increases passion tenfold in the same proportion as the excesses. "At the Olympics, everything is increased tenfold, confirms Philippe Salas. There are extremely high expectations from the media, politicians, and the public. Seeking the Grail at home, in France, is stimulating but amplifies the risks."

Some exceptional athletes then manage to turn adversity into a jet engine. Martin Fourcade is living proof: "I used these criticisms on social networks to fuel anger within me and take revenge." Or how to transform lead into gold!

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