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As part of its preparation to regulate tech giants under new online safety laws, Ofcom teamed up with the Alan Turing Institute,
the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, to analyse more than 2.3 million tweets directed at Premier League footballers over the first five months of the 2021-22 season.
The study created a new machine-learning technology to automatically assess whether tweets are abusive, while a team of experts also manually reviewed a random sample of 3,000 tweets.
Of that sample, 57% were positive towards players, 27% were neutral and 12.5% were critical. The remaining 3.5% were abusive.
Of the 2.3 million tweets analysed with the machine-learning tool, 2.6% contained abuse.
“These stark findings uncover the extent to which footballers are subjected to vile abuse across social media,” said Dr Bertie Vidgen, lead author of the report and head of online safety at the Alan Turing Institute.
“While tackling online abuse is difficult, we can’t leave it unchallenged. More must be done to stop the worst forms of content, to ensure that players can do their job without being subjected to abuse.”