FIA details white paper plan to tackle “deplorable” social media toxicity

2023 F1 season

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The FIA has published a white paper, outlining the governing body of motorsport’s intentions to tackle what it described as “intolerable levels” of online abuse.

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem set up the Online Abuse Working Group to investigate and research “digital hate and toxic commentary” online connected to officials, teams and drivers involved in its sanctioned competitions.

Through working with the European Commission and the governing body of motorcycle racing – the FIM – and Professional Game Match Officials Limited – the body responsible for referees in English professional football – the FIA has outlined how it aims to reduce “toxic” commentary on its social media profiles and create a more inclusive online space for fans and individuals involved in motorsport.

The FIA and Ben Sulayem have collaborated with AI company Arwen.AI to automatically detect and remove “toxic” social media comments, with Ben Sulayem including his own profiles for research. Using automated software, the FIA reported a 66.6% reduction in “toxic” comments on its social media profiles between September 2022 and January of this year.

“Sustained online toxicity has reached deplorable levels,” said Ben Sulayem. “We will no longer tolerate FIA volunteers, officials, employees and drivers being subjected to this extreme abuse. It has no place in our sport and if it continues it could destroy it. We will take a collaborative approach in combatting this scourge on our sport and others.

“We want everyone, the teams, drivers, media and fans to play their part. Only through collaborative action, can we bring about behavioural change. We are united against abuse. This journey has only just begun.”

The white paper outlines that FIA will continue to research the impact of online hate speech on victims, work with other major sporting bodies such as the IOC and FIFA, government bodies and social media companies to target hate speech as well as launch a dedicated research centre with scholarships to further explore the issues raised.

Fernando Alonso, who criticised hateful online comments directed at FIA race director Silvia Bellot last year, welcomed the FIA’s efforts. “We are getting better as a sport in many areas,” he said. “I think on this topic there is always never enough. But I think we have good leadership right now and we are in good hands and we are moving in the right direction.”

The FIA’s white paper on the matter, entitled “A strategic response to online hate speech in sport” can be viewed in full here.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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14 comments on “FIA details white paper plan to tackle “deplorable” social media toxicity”

  1. some racing fan
    2nd March 2023, 13:09

    There is lots of toxicity in social media. It’s a reflection of the human condition. But no one should trust Bin Sulayem’s take on what he thinks are toxic comments. Within months of his tenure, he has shown a real streak of authoritarianism that would make Max Mosley blush.

    1. The FIA’s White Paper is extremely short on details of the AI algorithm(s) used to detect hate speech. And therein lies the rub. As has been demonstrated ad nauseam at this point, the development of AI algorithms is intrinsically biased by the training sets they learn on as well as the underlying algorithm itself. The closed-off nature of companies like Arwen means that we may never know what training sets were used and what the algorithm looks like. And that lack of transparency is deeply problematic when trying to solve a problem that is as widespread as online hate speech. Based on the FIA’s history, I have no faith whatsoever that the AI algorithm will not suppress non-hate speech that is justly critical of the FIA or of countries/regimes that are aligned with the FIA through membership or through hosting events.

      1. some racing fan
        2nd March 2023, 15:08

        + 1

      2. ollie studio45
        2nd March 2023, 21:11

        also + 1

  2. Yea trust the AI censors, what could go wrong?

  3. There is an increasing amount of toxicity on Social media, to the point people are avoiding to comment about particular drivers and teams due to the level a hatred that is often generated.

    Let’s hope that this works, although I won’t hold my breath.

  4. I don’t know if it’s just me but it sort of feels like things have gotten way worse since Liberty took over, And especially with DTS as they have started promoting F1 differently & pushing the drama & rivalry aspect of things more than the actual sporting side of things.

    I want to be clear that I don’t mean to lump everyone into the same boat with this but it does feel like a lot of the newer/younger & especially the more casual fans are coming at F1 with a very different mindset & understanding of things compared to those of us who have been around a while.

    You see things like the Max/Lewis crash at Silverstone the other year & how toxic the reaction was & how it’s something that just keeps coming up over & over in a way that such an incident 5-10+ years ago wouldn’t be. Things like that would once have been viewed as a racing incident, Maybe more one drivers fault but we’d have all moved on. Yet now the reaction is so much more toxic that the entire discussion around it gets so hateful that it feels like neither side moves on as we once used to.

    With things like the Netflix show & other marketing/promotion the sport is never at the forefront so when the primary thing people are been sold is the drama, rivalries & controversies and when those been attracted to the sport via DTS are been sold those things including some that are been manufacturers in the editing suite is it any wonder so many of the newer fans come in with a very different attitude with regards to what the show that was once a sport is.

    It just definitely feel to me like things have got significantly worse the past 4-5 years?

    1. I don’t think it got worse in the recent years. Social media are means of expressing one’s opinions – surely, they can fuel certain trends or tweak perception, but I vividly remember how furious I was they demoted Hamilton from 1st in Spa 2008. The discussions in online forums were no less heated than they are today, it’s just that social media weren’t a thing yet and you didn’t have a platform to fuel your anger.

    2. You see things like the Max/Lewis crash at Silverstone the other year & how toxic the reaction was & how it’s something that just keeps coming up over & over in a way that such an incident 5-10+ years ago wouldn’t be. Things like that would once have been viewed as a racing incident, Maybe more one drivers fault but we’d have all moved on.

      People still regularly complain about things that happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

      Also, whether or not one agrees, it’s pretty obvious from the reactions many had that they don’t see it as merely an ‘incident’. The whole situation, from the collision itself to the celebrations afterwards makes it a very rare occurrence indeed. In almost 30 years so of watching F1 I can only name a handful of similarly contentious situations.

  5. It reads like this is about deleting comments made to FIA/teams/etc. profiles on their respective “social” media accounts?

    Fair enough to keep those curated according to the wishes of the people involved.

    There are other platforms where fans can discuss amongst themselves.

  6. Using automated software, the FIA reported a 66.6% reduction in “toxic” comments on its social media profiles between September 2022 and January of this year.

    It would be nice to know what the FIA define as a “toxic comment”. Presumably it excludes mocking them because their rules said full points had to be awarded to the drivers and teams for the washed out Japanese Grand prix. Only 28 of the scheduled 53 laps were run due to the rain, yet full points were awarded instead of something like half the normal point values for a race where the distance covered is less than 70% of the scheduled distance, which I believe was the norm for most of F1’s history.

  7. The Dolphins
    2nd March 2023, 20:17

    The FIA: drivers are free to voice their political opinion on social media platforms
    Also the FIA: your social media comments have been flagged as “Toxic”

  8. Careful cheering on censorship. Eventually they’ll be coming after your speech too. There was a free speech warrior on TV when I was a kid. And his motto was ‘if you don’t like what I say or do, turn the channel. There’s a hundred channels and if you don’t like me or my actions, simply turn the channel.’

    I wish more people listened to that guy. With the internet there’s a million different channels. Just turn the channel.

  9. The only reason “toxic” behaviour is such a big problem these days is because people use the internet, and social media, with their own names.

    The best counter to “toxic” behavior is anonymity.

    If individuals started using the internet from behind usernames again, they would be much less inclined to take any comments and messages personally.

    Companies and brands would continue to be represented by a team of “sOcIaL MeDiA CoMmUnIcAtIoNs sPeCiAlIsTs”, and any unsavoury comments/discussions could be deleted without even a thought.

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