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Tennis Governing Bodies to Combat Player Abuse Online

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Posted on: December 23, 2023, 02:15h. 

Last updated on: December 23, 2023, 02:15h.

The governing bodies of tennis are teaming up with Threat Matrix to curb online abuse of players.

tennis online abuse Threat Matrix
Nick Kyrgios taunts a heckling spectator at the Miami Open in 2019. The governing bodies of tennis are implementing a social media monitoring service to better protect players from online abuse and threats. (Image: Getty)

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), and United States Tennis Association (USTA) say the initiative is to better protect players from cyber cruelty.

Threat Matrix monitors social media channels for abusive comments — specifically racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism — through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human oversight. The company can pinpoint the identity of the person making the threats and abusive comments and notify appropriate parties, including law enforcement.

Beginning Jan. 1, the tennis bodies will work in conjunction with Threat Matrix to help lessen online abuse of players.

“This development reflects the commitment of the international tennis bodies involved to protect and support athletes from the mental trauma and potential real-world threat of online harassment and abuse,” the organizations said in a joint release.

Sports Betting Blames

Tennis players have reported an increase in online verbal abuse in recent years. The expansion of legal sports betting across the US — now legal in more than 30 states — has been partially blamed for the internet threats’ uptick.

The Threat Matrix service will support the identification of abusers, against whom all available measures will be taken,” the bodies explained. “Tennis is committed to supporting its athletes against online abuse, to which this ground-breaking initiative will make a significant contribution.”

Tennis is rather unique in that it’s a sport most often played head-to-head. Since a player can singlehandedly determine the outcome of a match, players are thought to be more susceptible to online attacks from bettors who are angry that a bet didn’t go their way. Tennis players are also frequent targets of rogue bettors seeking to influence a player to throw a match.

Threat Matrix last year monitored the social media accounts of 454 tennis players and concluded that one in four were subjected to online abuse. The protection platform was able to identify the persons behind 438 accounts that levied threats and provided that information to relevant authorities.

Harassment-Free Sport

David Haggerty, president of the ITF, says player safety isn’t limited to the court.

“Social media abuse is a serious problem for athletes, and this initiative takes a decisive and industry-leading step towards addressing it. Tennis must be a sport in which players can compete to the best of their ability, free from any form of harassment,” Haggerty said.

Threat Matrix surveys X, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok for abusive and threatening content in 35 languages. Players are also encouraged to share direct messages with such language to Threat Matrix.

The service provides rapid threat assessment of personal safety and works with law enforcement in investigating the most serious cases. Last year’s tennis study monitored over 1.6 million X posts and 19,000 Instagram comments.

AI firm Signify Group is behind the Threat Matrix product. The company’s mission statement “is to show how AI and big data can build social empathy and inspire better products and policies.”

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