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Tennis stars block social media abuse with AI at French open

By: Rachael Tan

Tennis athletes have been offered an app intended to block the abuse and hate that can slip past some social media filters.

People don’t often think of the world of tennis as a vicious, hate-filled place, but to many professional players, it can often feel like that. Professional players Frances Tiafoe, Jessica Pegula, and Donna Vekic have all received death threats on social media after losing professional tennis matches.

“Everybody gets them after a loss,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old tennis player from Maryland. “It’s just how society is today. I know how that affects people’s mental health. That’s very real.”

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 tennis champion and 2018 runner-up at Roland Garros, says she often comes across racist messages directed at her online.

“It’s obviously been a problem my entire career. It has never stopped,” said Stephens, who is of African descent. “If anything, it’s only gotten worse.”

Every contestant in every category of tennis is allowed free access to for use on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to block hateful and racist comments.

Caroline Flaissier, the CEO of the French Tennis Foundation (FFT) says, “We know that there is a lot of cyberbullying, we have to address that major issue, so we thought let’s do a test.”

That test includes monitoring social media used by the FFT and the French Opening itself. They concluded that 4,500 messages have been deleted out of the 79,000 received on those accounts.

Yann Guerin, head of sports for Nice-based Bodyguard, said the company’s software needs less than 100 milliseconds to analyze a comment and delete it if it’s “hateful or undesirable.”

"You get all these messages only if you lose," Daria Kasatkina said, then added with a laugh: "If you win, then there are only good things on social media. Everyone loves you so much."

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