FIA engages online abuse

Well, all I have to say is, “Welcome to the party, pal”. I’ve been kicking off toxic people and comments for two years now at TPF and it’s nice to see the FIA finally discuss it.

There’s an old axiom which says something like, “be careful for what you wish for, you might just get it” and that’s something Sean Bratches of Formula 1 may not have fully thought through in his attempt to grow the sport via a documentary on Netflix called Drive to Survive.

I seriously doubt Sean had any idea that the documentary would be as impactful as it has been for F1’s growth but it was a lucky coincidence that the world was locked down and looking for things to watch during this time.

As such, the series brought a throng of new general sports fans and an overwhelming amount of toxicity, hate and worse to the sport. When something is brought in to focus, it gains the attention of the mobocracy and they go to work on the sport itself.

I’ve argued this for two years now and been attacked myself for discussing it. I just had a rant about it on our latest podcast. I’ve written editorials about it at our website. In the end, I am fine being a gatekeeper for F1 because if this is the kind of fan F1 is getting, I know I’m not interested and in time, I think F1 will not be interested either.

The FIA has now finally weighed in on the situation and it will be interesting to see if they get the ire that Red Bull’s Christian Horner got when he discussed the toxicity and attacks on his team.

You see, the FIA are part of the problem with the leaks regarding the cost cap certification process and Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is part of the problem as well by dog-whistling the leaks to the press and social media. The press are complicit in continuously ramping up the rhetoric for clickbait and much more.

Lewis Hamilton uses his platform to dog-whistle messages to the mobocracy and surprisingly, in a recent article I mentioned on this week’s podcast, Toto Wolff says that the mobocracy is a deterrent to breaking regulations because of brand damage a team faces from online abuse. He said compliancy is good for the sport. Shocking position if you ask me. As if fear of the digital mob is a measure of efficacy of an FIA regulation. Stunning.

So we have now gone from Drive to Survive to Drive it Out. It’s a new program to drive out toxic online abuse. I suspect those most instrumental in fueling the abuse will be the first to play victim of online abuse because that’s how they roll.

In the end, the system is a dumpster fire and the FIA, Formula 1, sponsors, Teams, and personnel would do well to simply ignore it. Abusive people and bots on social media threatening to stop buying Red Bull, Petronas fuel products, Pirelli tires is all a bunch of BS.

I hope the FIA’s program is effective and maybe someone at the FIA could leak some of the progress of the program to Toto and the press so they can dog-whistle it to the rest of us. It’s become a joke if I’m honest and ruining the sport. F1 may face a very real situation of walking away from rainbows in order to save itself from the digital mobocracy and generalist sports fan who isn’t engaged in F1 in good faith but rather hooliganism and base behavior. Here is the FIA’s editorial at Motorsport.

The FIA Statement regarding online abuse:

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem’s Op-Ed published on Motorsport.com on November 8, 2022

Recently one of the FIA female stewards, Silvia Bellot, was the subject of death threats. It is utterly deplorable that a volunteer such as Silvia or any of our marshals and officials, who volunteer their time to allow us to go racing, is the subject of such hatred.

Indeed a number of FIA staff have also been targeted with harassment and hate posts over the past few years.

It is totally unacceptable that our volunteers, officials and employees are subjected to this extreme abuse. It has no place in our sport. It has a devastating effect on our mental health and that of our loved ones.

I will always stand up for my staff and volunteers. And let me be clear – without these people there would be no racing. We have to ask ourselves, who would want to pursue becoming a top official in this environment? The reality is obvious – if this continues it will destroy our sport.

As the referee, and as the President you of course expect people to disagree with the decisions you make. But you should expect that those opinions and comments are respectful. This is increasingly rare.

Only through a collaborative approach will we achieve a measure of success in combatting this scourge on our sport.

We have already initiated that process through the following actions:

  • We have entered into dialogue with social media platforms to play their part and we are beginning work with governments and fellow sports governing bodies to bring them together to make strong commitments for joint action.
  • We are commissioning research via the FIA University into digital hate and toxic commentary specific to sport. This will provide a platform for knowledge sharing, education and prevention.
  • We have partnered with Arwen.ai to utilise their AI software to detect and eradicate abusive content on our own channels.

In the coming months we will be launching a concerted campaign by leveraging the power and reach of our entire federation which numbers 244 motoring and sporting organisations in 146 countries on 5 continents.

This campaign will build on the collaborative work by the FIA and Formula 1 through the Drive It Out initiative.

I will be talking more about this at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix later this month.

Passions run high in sport, but online harassment, abuse and hate speech must not be tolerated.

Everyone in our sport, from the media, teams, drivers and fans has a role to play. We cannot ignore this. I urge the entire motorsport ecosystem to take a stand.

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Gary

The series has cuddled up to murderous despots, been happy to attract spectacularly greasy sponsorship money, and has attracted throngs of new fans by ramping up—”cultivated” is the way I’m tempted to put it—conflict, anger and all the things that go with ’em. And at the top of the FIA you have this amazing flatulent bloviator.

Anyway, my thoughts run to a quote fromThe Wire character Jimmy McNulty who said, “You play in dirt, you get dirty.”