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AI to protect French Open players against cyber bullying

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 23 May 2023

The French Tennis Federation (FFT), organiser of Roland-Garros, also commonly known as the French Open, plans to step up its fight against cyber bullying of players.

The FFT will offer players access to Bodyguard.ai, to help moderate their social media content during the 2023 Parisian tennis Grand Slam.

Bodyguard is an artificial intelligence (AI)-based content moderation and audience analysis tool, filtering out irrelevant content and identifying valuable user-generated content.

It is used by companies to moderate their user-generated content in multiple languages and across multiple platforms and social media in real-time.

According to a statement, the federation, which set up a support unit in 2018 for French players, decided to make the anti-online harassment and hate speech tool available to all players at this year’s tournament.

The players’ Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and Discord social media platforms will be monitored.

Players must scan the QR provided by Bodyguard to connect their social media accounts to the system. AI is used to moderate the comments in real-time, analysing every comment in under 200 milliseconds. For GDPR reasons, private messages will not be moderated, says the statement.

“Social media is a major conduit for expressing hate and hostility, all under the cover of anonymity,” says Yann Guerin, head of sport at Bodyguard.ai. “We must be alert to this sad reality. There’s no avoiding it, as the cost of doing nothing is too high.

“The aim is to protect the players and their mental health directly and indirectly – because their entourages can also read these comments – and ban people intent on spreading hate and being aggressive. Tennis is one of the sports most affected by this curse.”

Roland-Garros tournament director Amelie Mauresmo believes the tool will be great for the mental well-being of the players. “It clears the mind and will help everyone have a little more freedom on the court. I can’t wait to see how the players react to it.”

The advent of social media has seen a rise in online harassment, with users often subjected to hateful, racist and homophobic comments, discrimination, insults, mockery and sometimes death threats.

As a result, some people develop social anxiety and depression, research shows.

Players like Naomi Osaka have been vocal about the harmful impact of social media comments on her mental health. In 2021, Osaka withdrew from the clay Grand Slam, citing mental issues.

Bodyguard will provide the organisers with daily reports – number of messages received, number of messages deleted, etc. In the event of an identified attack, it can – at the request of the FFT – provide extracts of messages and the identities of the culprits in the event of legal action.

The technology will safeguard the accounts of all players in the main draw and the official FFT and Roland-Garros accounts, with protection available in the lead-up to the tournament and for a few days after.

Caroline Flaissier, director of the FFT, states: “The mental health of the players is a priority for the Roland-Garros tournament. We will not accept any form of violence at our tournament.

“We are very proud to be the first Grand Slam tournament to offer players a solution that efficiently protects them against cyber bullying. We want to protect the players from this damaging behaviour, to enable them to be in peak mental condition when they compete in the tournament.”

Some Twitter users have applauded the FFT’s move, saying it’s good to finally see something being done to help players and indicating they believe it will benefit many of them.

Roland-Garros 2023 takes place from 29 May to 11 June.

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