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Sports for a Cause

Dear social media managers, it is time you take matters of player abuse into your own hands

How we can have regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure that nameless trolls and abusers do not get away without being punished.

Virat Kohli heaped plenty of praise on Pakistan

Virat Kohli leads India off the field after their loss against Pakistan [Source: BCCI]


C.C. Chengappa

Updated: 8 Nov 2021 1:38 PM GMT

For a certain section of the Indian sporting fan base, abusive words and threats flow naturally on popular social media sites. The domain of these abusive words range from religious insults and sexist remarks to rape and death threats. Given that online abuse has picked up over the last decade, there was hope that concerned authorities could effectively deal with it, especially with ample evidence present online. However, heads need to turn another way for a solution and the responsibility needs to rest on individuals who bridge the gap between athletes and their public lives.

The following article hopes to inculcate some sense of responsibility and onus on social media management companies which run media accounts for athletes. This is not to belittle or diminish their reputation in today's market, but it is just a friendly reminder that protecting the integrity of sports matters much more than having great captions and extra likes on posts. Ideally, it is to kickstart an initiative where these companies are able to trace and track social media accounts which abuse athletes that are represented by them. The reasoning for this shall be argued subsequently.

To give a better context, one can understand the Indian online abuse scenario from the most popular sport and sportsperson in the country at the moment.

The most recent case which arose was the rape threats directed towards Virat Kohli's daughter after he defended Mohammed Shami during the ongoing T20 World Cup. Kohli stepped up during a press conference and stated that the trolls who targeted Shami were "spineless and pathetic". This was after Shami received abuse for being a Muslim and so called a traitor due to his bad performance in the match against Pakistan. As disgusting and low as it was, it does little to diminish the infamous reputation for threats that Indian sports fans are associated with in the world.

This is not the first time that cowards such as 'Amena' (the fake twitter profile that gave the rape threat) have used a social media platform to hide their identity and give a repulsive message at the same time. What makes this worse is that the profile shows itself to be a different nationality when in reality, it was actually traced to Hyderabad.

The only active administrative member who took some action was Women's Rights Commission Chair Sawti Maliwal. She has been extremely proactive in the past as well (during the Boys Locker Room case) and stepped up again immediately once she realised that the responsible authorities were oblivious to the situation.

But why is there so much silence on all other fronts? Without digressing into whether Kohli is represented by social media agencies, why has there never been any proactive effort taken by talent management or media management companies to actually find culprits who abuse players online?

At the outset, it is also imperative to bring a recent racism case that emanated from the Football Championship in England. West Bromwich footballer Romaine Sawyers was at the receiving end of a Facebook post from a user a few months ago which said, he deserved the 'Baboon d'Or'. This reference was derogatory and disgusting. A magistrate's court, ruling in favour of the footballer, stated: "In the 21st Century, it should be incomprehensible how a so-called football fan can abuse a player based on race, let alone a player on the team he purports to support."

West Bromwich Albion released a statement as well condemning the incident and showed a clear picture of solidarity with their player. This was a clear win for online racist attacks that have often been ignored in England for obvious reasons.

What is more heartening however, is that this case was taken up in court based on a social media post. The swift cognisance followed by an effective lifetime ban on the West Bromwich supporter is the way forward for dealing with online abuse.

But when will we see this in India? When will courts deal with online rape and death threats in a swift manner with swift punishments? Is it possible that Indian athletes can go about their playing career without having to worry about the safety of themselves and their family members? The current story is nothing less than a classic Indian case of minimal action and maximum voicing of opinions. The only way forward is for private companies in the domain of social media management to take up individual cases of abuse.

Tracking and tracing

The most glaring solution which ideally should have come at the turn of the decade is the aspect of tracking down online trolls and abusers. There is no doubt this is a tedious task which involves more than just taking screenshots of suspected profiles and reporting them to the police. Given the quantity of abuse, there needs to be a clear identification, tracking of the IP address or simply just manually tracing who and where the person is from. All this done by individuals on a regular basis but it becomes credible and more viable when recognised companies do this on their own.

In instances that involve large amounts of abuse, tracing such users is not a difficult task as the social media company just needs to enter keywords onto websites or read comments sections.

Employ an IT team

The second idea is to ensure that an IT team takes charge of this responsibility. The solutions winds back to tediousness which might be overwhelming for the management team of an athlete or a player. IT specialists need to be employed to get quick and guaranteed results that trace all the necessary technological details of online abusers. There are ample number of ethical hackers around the country who specialise in this. It will of course be a boon if these ethical hackers are ardent sports fans willing to fight for a good cause.

Efforts are always reduced when passion comes into the picture and there is no doubt that a competent IT team can go a long way in dealing with such cases of online abuse. This is not just about the image of athletes but also about the reputation of such management companies that can benefit from providing a necessary layer of security to players they represent. With the advancement of IT in India, this is definitely an online army that needs to be equipped immediately to counter abuse.

Appeal to Social Media Platforms

In order to seek the cooperation of social media platforms, there is usually some form of official authorization that is required during an investigation. It is usually left to the Courts to issue orders which are later shown as letters of authority granting a directive of access into records held by social media platforms. This process Is extremely long and tedious for several obvious reasons.

Given the presence of famous Indian athletes is itself a source of revenue for social media platforms, management companies need to come together and make direct appeals to these platforms to cooperate. These appeals should include,

i) a promise of cooperation during pendency of an investigation regarding online abuse

ii) direct access into social media user records upon displaying of proof of abuse by the management company

iii) automatically taking down abuse and reports of targeted abuse by flagging both the user and the post

iv) releasing statements to name and shame the users who post derogatory remarks

These points are just a few foundational suggestions which can be made as part of a coordinate online effort by social media management companies. The battle to maintain peace and calm within Indian sport is unfortunately being won by fake fans and cowards online. No genuine sports critic would ever stoop to an unfathomable level of criticism that takes away from the beauty of sport.

Losses and bad performances are as much part of any game but this has unfortunately never been realised by certain unfit and incompetent Indian sports fans who sit behind gadgets all day.

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