The French Tennis Federation is paying technology company Bodyguard.ai to provide French Open players with software that uses artificial intelligence to block negative and hateful comments on social media in real time.
Use of the AI program is optional, but it’s free for all of the 700 to 800 players in the tennis tournament, including singles, doubles, juniors and wheelchair competitors. The company reported that dozens of players have signed up for the service as of the beginning of the week. The program is available for the athletes to use on their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts.
“The social media accounts of tennis players attract insults, death threats and hateful and sometimes racist and homophobic comments made by trolls,” the FFT said in a statement shared with CNET. “By connecting to this new system, they will be protected from all types of harassment (discrimination, insults, mockery, threats, etc) and be able to engage with their fans in complete safety and focus on their performance on the court.”
In the statement, Yann Guerin, head of sport at Bodyguard.ai, called the anonymous hatred often shared on social media a “sad reality.”
“The aim is to protect the players and their mental health directly and indirectly — because their entourages can also read these comments — and ban people intent on spreading hate and being aggressive,” Guerin said. “Tennis is one of the sports most affected by this curse.”
Participating players must scan a QR code before connecting to their social media accounts. Private messages aren’t moderated.
Bodyguard.ai said it provides the tournament organizers with daily reports showing the number of messages received and the number deleted and will alert them in the even of an identified attack. If requested by the FFT, the company says it can “provide extracts of messages and the identities of the culprits in the event of legal action.”
Guerin told the Associated Press that the company’s software is constantly updated for new words or emoji that should be screened and that the software “needs less than 100 milliseconds to analyze a comment and delete it if it’s hateful or undesirable.”
Bodyguard.ai says it developed its own AI technology that automatically “identifies and blocks in real-time 90% of toxic content.”
The cost to the federation was between $30,000 and $50,000, FFT CEO Caroline Flaissier told the AP. Bodyguard.ai didn’t respond to a request for comment.
As technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, AI is being used across more industries — from workout companions for fitness to online personal shoppers. But AI and tech leaders agree that AI needs regulation and that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority.”
The French Open began on May 28, with the women’s final scheduled for June 10 followed by the men’s final on June 11. One familiar face isn’t playing at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, however. Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament due to injury.
Here’s how to watch the French Open, even without cable.
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