Online abuse continues to be a prevalent issue among footballers globally – and Australia’s professional players are not immune. 

In recent months, Matilda Ellie Carpenter shared the impact of abuse she received during the FIFA Women’s World Cup, while Josh Cavallo highlighted examples of the homophobic abuse he has been sent via Instagram as recently as this week. Sadly, there are many other examples that emerge throughout each A-League season, and at major international tournaments. 

The PFA remains committed to safeguarding players’ wellbeing and supporting them throughout their careers and continues to work with football’s governing bodies, social media companies and the Australian Government to ensure players are better protected from abuse. 

Social media protective services at major tournaments 

Football’s governing bodies are stepping in to help tackle the issue of social media abuse, as evidenced by a joint FIFA and FIFPRO report which outlines the protective services put in place during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. 

The social media protective services (SMPS) were made available to players and coaches at the tournament to protect their personal social media accounts. Once activated, the SMPS hides or mutes content that it deems to be abusive or offensive, through artificial intelligence. The same service was available to players at the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar.

As outlined in the report, the goal of the SMPS is to “protect players, teams, officials and fans from abuse, keeping their social feeds free from hate and allowing them to focus on enjoying their part in FIFA events”. 

The report found that one in five players (150 players out of 697 active players monitored) were targeted during the tournament with discriminatory, abusive, or threatening content.  

Much of the abuse was homophobic in nature, while the report recorded a high level of sexualised content. It also identified a “highly sporadic approach” to responses from platforms to addressing reported content, indicating the issue of moderation is not high on the priority list of social media companies. 

‘GoBubble’ and ‘eSafety’: two resources available to players outside of international tournaments 

Players in the A-Leagues have sport-specific resources available through the eSafety Commissioner’s Sports Hub. The resources include information on how to activate tighter security and privacy settings on personal accounts, and steps to reporting, blocking or removing abusive or offensive comment. 

To deliver an additional layer of protection to PFA members, the PFA entered a tripartite partnership with the Australian Professional Leagues and GoBubble Community, a discrete automated solution that hides hateful comments on social media channels in 2022.  

The APL, PFA and GoBubble recently renewed the partnership to continue protecting players until 2027. 

The PFA has visited players at every A-Leagues club during the pre-season to educate players on the new technology solution and how to activate the technology. The PFA encourages all players to access the service on their social media accounts*. 

At present, only players based in Australia and New Zealand who are playing in the A-Leagues can activate the GoBubble service on their social media platforms.  

Players within the Socceroos and Matildas are protected at major international tournaments, such as FIFA World Cups, by FIFA and FIFPRO’s SMPS.  

Any player based in Australia or overseas are encouraged to take advantage of the advice and resources provided through Australia’s eSafety Sports Hub. 

Why is abuse still a regular occurrence for players on social media? 

Despite the measures taken by football’s governing bodies and the PFA, players remain vulnerable to abuse. In the case of Ellie Carpenter, the SMPS service was unable to shield her from receiving thousands of abusive messages following the Matildas’ World Cup semi-final loss against England earlier this year.

Carpenter’s experience indicates the need for mandatory activation of the services at major tournaments for all competing players, and the importance of ongoing protection, given the growing profiles of Australia’s female players.  

In the case of Josh Cavallo, the Adelaide United defender received messages that social media platforms do not immediately deem as abusive or offensive, but can be incredibly harmful if not immediately flagged as offensive and removed, including death threats. 

Having shielded his platforms using a social media protective service previously, Cavallo recently felt confident enough to turn off the safety settings upon his return from injury, and was encouraged by the opportunity to reengage with positive interactions on Instagram. 

However, he was met with new vitriolic commentary, much of it on his post in October 2021 when Josh first publicly announced he was gay.  

“I was excited to reconnect with my followers, to share my return from injury. But then notifications and comments came up on older posts, which were extremely hurtful.  

“I’d really like to see Instagram and other social media companies take this more seriously and ensure that anyone can go online without the fear of being abused.  

“As a professional athlete I am fortunate to have a great support network in football, at my club and through the PFA but many people don’t and that is why I am sharing experience to highlight the issue and hopefully change can happen.” 

Player Resources:

  • How to activate GoBubble, reach out to your PFA Player Development Manager 
  • PFA Abuse Reporting Service – click here to report abuse of any kind to the PFA 
  • PFA Mental Health Referral Network – If online abuse has affected you and you wish to access the PFA’s counselling or psychological services please contact your Player Development Manager. In addition, members can contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for crisis support 24 hours a day. 

Community Support Services:

*Due to Twitter/’s increase cost of third-party applications, GoBubble has switched off the service for their platform. We apologise for any inconvenience caused by X’s new policy.