Why is women’s football still the focus of so much online misogyny and hate, and how do we protect players from it?
“This is the moment...”
What a way to summarise what feels like a real change in the game by BBC pundit and former England player, Alex Scott, following the Lionesses’ incredible victory to be crowned European champions.
“Back in 2018 we were begging clubs to host games for these championships and many said no. I hope they’re watching now…they never saw the vision,” Scott continued.
The vision they saw came to fruition during a record-breaking women’s UEFA Euros, with 87,192 fans at a packed-out Wembley, a UEFA tournament final record. Whilst another 17.4m fans watched from home, making it the most watched women’s football match on UK television.
Remarkably, this is the third highest attendance for a women’s football match, following the world record that was set and broken twice in recent months for FC Barcelona Femení, which has seen two games at Camp Nou exceeding attendance figures of 90,000 fans.
So, as we see the rise in popularity of women’s football across Europe, and the record-breaking buzz we saw at the Euros, why are misogynistic and hateful comments still being directed at the players online?
The increased visibility and representation of women’s football is one that we would hope would be welcomed with open arms, but it seems quite the opposite. A minority of vocal fans express misogynistic attitudes and appear to consider women’s football as lesser than men’s, with many seeing the increased coverage as “positive discrimination”.
Top England Striker Ellen White deleted her social accounts for the entirety of the Women’s Euros tournament in support of the Hope United campaign for 2022. The campaign consists of a high-profile squad of players from the women’s and men’s game to share the #NotHerProblem in a bid to tackle online sexist abuse and includes players such as Lucy Bronze, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, Caroline Weir, Andy Robertson, Declan Rice, and Demi Stokes.
A survey conducted by Her Game Too reported that more than 90% of women surveyed had witnessed sexist abuse being directed to a woman in football online, whilst over 60% had experienced it themselves.
England’s second-most capped player, Alex Scott, has been very vocal about her social media experience as a footballer and as a pundit, lifting the lid on the high volume of comments and the vicious content contained with them. So many players in the women’s game regularly have misogynistic comments based on outdated gender roles to extreme death threats directed at them, and the actions of social media trolls can have a devastating effect on the mental health of an individual player and across the whole team.
Findings from a survey found that 39% of women who receive online abuse reported low levels of self-esteem, whilst 38% said the harassment caused mental and emotional stress. It’s clear the mental health of an athlete is as important, if not more so, as their physical health. In recent years there is a positive trend toward improved awareness and support for players mental wellbeing.
Earlier this year, the NSWL made a historic announcement by signing a collective bargaining agreement that ratified a mental health policy for the league, legally entitling players to up to six months of paid mental health leave.
So with the growing level of mental health care in football, what can be done to shield players from online abuse?
GoBubble’s AI content moderation and detection tool Freedom2Hear reported a stark rise in negative tweets during the UEFA Women’s Champions League final. Increasing from an average of 1000 positive tweets for every 1 negative tweet, to only 300 positive tweets for every 1 negative tweet, a 300% difference.
GoBubble also identified wider trends in the types of online abuse women receive. Misogyny+ is the common type of toxic messages sent to women across social platforms, this means that the messages will not only include misogynistic insults, but also anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and/or profanity. On the flip side, messages directed towards males would be solely based on one aspect, most commonly profanity.
Similarly, in an independent audit of the Euros, GoBubble found 190+ incidents of online hate in the first game alone. During the full group stage, we identified 1,509 toxic posts on Twitter alone, 62% of which centred around misogyny, with 30%+ of all toxic tweets being directed at players' personal accounts.
Being online and active on social media shouldn’t be something that has to be restricted because of the behaviour of the minority of users who feel it’s okay to direct hate at individuals online. Our digital experiences should enshrine the positive, allowing us to engage with each other and the teams/players we follow and support. It should be a space that amplifies the positive and empowers and enables athletes in a safer environment, to engage with their true supporters; who want to lift them up and cheer them on.
That’s why as CEO and co-founder at GoBubble, we have built the technology to help protect you online. We want to give you the freedom to hear, and the power to turn off offensive or abusive posts as well as to amplify the positive content. Keeping your channels free from abusive, derogatory, harmful, or offensive content and celebrating your real fans who care about you and your positive mental well-being.
Our innovative Emotion AI (Patent Pending) can be rolled out to clients in under a minute with 99% efficiency, giving you the freedom to hear, protecting you and helping to drive positive and authentic engagement with fans and customers. Our AI does more than just listen, it acts. Putting our cutting-edge Emotion AI in your hands, allowing you to pick the sensitivity levels and decide what you want to see on your channels.
The GoBubble technology is already having a transformational impact across the globe through our work with high-profile clubs (women’s and men’s), players, and governing bodies across all sports, as well as FTSE 100, Fintech, Social, Dating, Esports, and B2B platforms.
We’re proud to be working in partnership with A-Leagues and Professional Footballers Australia, to use our technology to protect the wellbeing of players as well as the community of managers who run the official social media channels for football clubs. Through working together, we’ve been able to protect players and clubs from abuse directed at them, and we’ve seen an increase in positive interactions across their social media channels.
If you’d like to learn more about GoBubble and our next-generation content moderation and detection technology, which helps organisations around the globe create kinder, more supportive online communities and protect your platform, profile, and people - get in touch today or book a demo at gobubblehq.com