Safeguarding online sporting spaces : examining virtual maltreatment, abuse and toxic social media practices experienced by Olympic and Paralympic athletes / Emily Hayday, Andrea Geurin, Lauren Burch, Aaron Smith

Hayday, Emily | Geurin, Andrea N. | Burch, Lauren | Smith, Aaron

Edited by Loughborough University - 2023

Through a two-phase research design, this study explored online abuse experienced by athletes and current mitigation approaches. Phase one involved the analysis of six trigger event cases on social media (X/Twitter) in which Olympic athletes suffered abuse. Data was collected using the Twitter API, and 243,276 tweets were examined across a 73-hour window. Analysis assessed abuse presence, type and frequency, alongside thematic analysis of all social media content. Results showed that different types of abuse were observed, alongside a preliminary typology for trigger event types. Phase two involved 24 in-depth interviews with 29 participants including key sporting stakeholders and safeguarding organisations, to understand their experiences and the impact of online abuse on athletes’ well-being. Thematic coding identified six major themes including, contexts of abuse, characteristics of online spaces, challenges to safeguarding athletes, impact of online abuse, responsibility, and best practice. Results underscore the need for a multifaceted approach involving regulation, education, collaboration, and technological innovation to more effectively counter online abuse. Twenty-one recommendations are presented as critical considerations that should be woven into a comprehensive social media policy framework, which is needed to safeguard athletes from the scourge of online abuse.

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