Discriminatory Virtual Maltreatment and Online Abuse in Digital Sporting Spaces

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Abstract

Online abuse has become a frequent and prevalent occurrence within the sporting landscape. Instances of online abuse can be sparked by “trigger events,” which are reactive, emotionally driven moments in sport that are the by-product of its competitive nature. While social media utilization by athletes has increased and can provide various benefits, it can simultaneously contribute to detrimental pitfalls, such as abuse. This study employed a quantitative, longitudinal case study analysis to examine the discriminatory online abuse directed at six Olympic athletes on Twitter/X between 2018 and 2022. Analysis of 243,276 tweets revealed continued forms of discriminatory abuse (e.g., gendered, racial, homophobic) present in content and identified two new types of discrimination related to nationalism and transphobia. Recommendations for the safeguarding of athletes against online abuse are provided.