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Responding to social media issues and concerns

The dangers and consequences of poor social media use include:

  • Your online identity is highly visible and shareable. Everything you post builds a profile of who you are and what you value​ and this can impact your personal brand and reputation.
  • The internet never forgets – your digital footprint is a permanent billboard.
  • Social media interactions can have a significant impact on your mental health.
  • What you post or others post to social media about you can impact your work/sport.
  • You may be held personally liable for content harmful to others.

When online contact is a problem

Cyber abuse is behaviour that uses technology to threaten, intimidate, harass or humiliate someone — with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically or even physically.

It can take place on social media, through online chat and messaging services, text, messages, emails, on message boards and in online forums that allow people to publicly comment.

Trolling is when someone makes a deliberatively provocative comment or post and waits for people to take the bait. Online ‘trolls’ are not always bad — they can be mischievous and they can prompt people to talk about contentious subjects. For example, online activists have used trolling as a way to call out people who were being homophobic.

Trolling is not when someone makes a personal attack — that’s ‘flaming’ or online hate.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of this kind of abuse, this may be when you need to consider taking further action and/or reaching out for advice and support from your Athlete Wellbeing & Engagement Manager (AW&E) and/or real-life support network.

Problem/mistakeAdvice and guidance to the athlete

Athlete, coach or NSO receives negative feedback or criticism publicly

First – pause!

Breathe and take some time to consider your response prior to responding. Choosing not to respond at all may sometimes be the best response. Maintain perspective – take a step back from the situation and consider if it’s worth your time and energy in defending.

These issues can happen to varying degrees, and levels of seriousness, so it is important to consider the situation before engaging with the person or post.

Often a good policy is to respond once and respond well – don’t get pulled into the online “tennis” and keep going.

Humour can be a helpful tool to diffuse certain situations, but try to refrain from engaging in personal attacks.

It’s okay to look to correct incorrect facts or misrepresentations – but if you look to be defending a position too much, it may attract more scrutiny or ridicule.

Athlete, coach or NSO experiences cyber abuse

If you are a victim of cyber abuse and or severe or sustained trolling:

  • First, are you in physical danger? Are you receiving genuine threats of harm? Are they sustained in nature? Have your personal details – such as address or place of work – been posted online? Have nude or inappropriate images of you been posted without your consent? Is your reputation or employment at risk? If yes, make your AW&E Manager aware immediately. You may need to report directly to police or (see section below).
  • Seek advice on how best to respond. For example, some comments should be ignored, some should be appropriately acknowledged, and some should be deleted.
  • Seek advice from your sport’s Athlete Wellbeing Manager about which policies you can utilise and what support is available e.g. reporting through social media sites, using the eSafety Commission resources, referral to psychological service for support, use of third-party support to vet your proposed communications/responses.
  • Don’t panic! Consider all the available facts and provide a well thought out and fact-based response. Don’t rush!  Take time to think about the best response and seek support on how to frame your reply.
  • Avoid using legal threats in response. Treat people as individuals, be friendly and personal, imagine replying as if they were standing in front of you.
  • You may choose to be corrective in response – for example, you may correct misinformation about you or your brand or NSO. But do not use aggression or abuse. Be polite.
  • Be a good bystander. Do not stand by and let teammates cop unfair or endless abuse. You may choose to report abuse against another person to the platform or police (taking the onus off the victim). After consideration, you may send the cyberhate target private or public support messages.

Be mindful of your own mental health. The various forms of cyber abuse can cause severe and ongoing physiological harm. This must not be underestimated. Check in with yourself and ask yourself how you’re travelling.

Check-in with your AW&E Manager, or the AIS Mental Health Referral Network.

You may need to step away from social media for a period, or ask someone else to manage your accounts. You’ll notice that it’s hard to stop reading abuse against you. This isn’t your fault. It’s related to how the brain is wired and also, human socialisation. We naturally want to know if we’re being bad mouthed!

However, if your mental health is being damaged – try to take a break from reading the flood of nasty messages, (even for a short time).

It’s important to reach out to your real-life support network. When offline talk about these feelings with your support network. Remind yourself of your good qualities and strengths.

If the cyber abuse is causing you to lose productivity or making you stressed. Help unravel the anxiety by asking yourself questions such as: is dwelling on the situation improving my life? Why am I still thinking about it? What could I be doing instead?

Athlete, coach or staff sends inappropriate information / images / language on their profile

Athlete, coach or staff share, likes or comments on offensive posts

Be aware that most of your content has visibility and you don’t know who is watching your moves (i.e. not just fans but your sponsors).

Note: All the various platforms are different in terms of their function. For example – a Facebook page is different to a Facebook personal profile and therefore the tools you can use to manage these problems are different. On the Facebook page you can set up filters so if anyone is using swear words or key terms, the comments do not show up. You can control who sees or shares, if your Facebook profile is private, but you can’t stop screenshots and that content being shared with people beyond your intended audience.

Sometimes it is best to remove a post as soon as possible, always seek advice if that content is being shared with people beyond your intended audience (consider how long the post was up for, how many people might have seen it, likelihood of screenshotting etc by others).

If you post something that needs clarification or has drummed up attention for the wrong reason – adding an {EDIT} to the post to update it or correct aspects of it might be the best move to make.  For example, if you posted something about a final score and you got the number wrong because of a typo, you might use this option.

Apology? Sometimes yes: step into the light and take ownership of the mistake. The trick here is to let your fans know that you’ve made a mistake and are doing your very best to fix it. Often you can simply admit the mistake, fix it, and let your fans know about it.

Athlete, coach or staff shares polarising viewpoints on social issues

It’s okay to have a clear position on a social issue, but equally, you have to consider who you will affect, get offside or isolate by promoting your position publicly.

And if your sport, club or employer has a position on an issue that you personally don’t support, your rights to have a say on the matter may be affected by your athlete agreement or employment contract.  Freedom of speech is not the same as freedom from consequence.

If you want to maintain your position you need to be prepared to have difficult conversations with stakeholders affected and look at possible consequences, including sponsor and potential sponsor’s association with you.

Athlete, coach or staff spends too much time engaged with social media and asks for help

Use the built-in tools installed on the operating system to set limits for the amount of time spent on social media each day and set boundaries around the times those apps are available.

Seek additional help and guidance on developing habits that work within the demands of your life and create accountability for your actions.

For some people with significant follower numbers, engaging an assistant to help you manage valuable messages and manage the community could be an option.

Protect your sleep: Ironically you can use smartphone features to do this – work out what time you need to go to bed in order to get optimum amount of sleep and get up on time; Adjust the display on your device of an evening from a blue tint to a more yellow tint, either on demand or automatically at sunrise and sunset. This can set a digital sunset and give your brain time to wind down and log off before falling  asleep, therefore assisting your sleep; Sleep is vital for wellbeing: it’s a crucial way that your body rests and repairs not only muscles but also codes learning and integrates memories. Some people choose not to have any devices in their bedrooms for this reason.

Manage your notifications: There are now a range of tools built into the operating system of your smartphone to help you curtail the desire to constantly check and scroll. You can also download apps that help track and monitor your habits. Managing your notifications is a simple but effective way to reduce distractions. Notifications are designed to get your attention but you can turn these off, batch them so they don’t drop in randomly and disrupt you or just select the most important ones. You can also turn your phone screen to grey scale so the colours don’t distract you, work with your phone out of sight and put the apps that distract you into a folder several pages back from the home screen.

Mental health deteriorates

When it comes to mental health, understand that it’s normal to have ups and downs on a daily basis. But if you do go through a longer period, with consistent negative thoughts and feelings that start to affect your ability to function day-to-day, this is when it’s important to ask for help: speak up and use your support network.

The ‘Apple’ technique is helpful to deal with anxiety and worries:

  • Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
  • Pause: Do not react as you normally do. Do not react at all. Pause and breathe.
  • Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Do not believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
  • Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You do not have to respond to it. You might imagine it floating away in a bubble or cloud.
  • Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.

Beyond Blue has fact sheets about anxiety and offers other practical advice and resources at

The Beyond Blue Support Service offers short term counselling and referrals by phone and webchat on 1300 22 4636.

Lifeline services include:

  • Phone: 13 11 14
  • Lifeline Text: 0477 13 11 14

Kids Helpline – for children that may need support:

Managing and reporting social media misuse

NSOs should ensure athletes and HP staff are made aware of the internal and external avenues to report inappropriate social media use.

Internal NSO reporting processes

NSOs should implement and promote a confidential process to allow the reporting of an alleged or suspected breach of a social media policy or alleged or suspected unethical or inappropriate practices (for example, under a whistleblower procedure). The process might include direct reporting to the NSOs AW&E Manager.

NSOs should have formal investigation and disciplinary processes applicable to social media policy breaches by athletes and HP Staff (for example, under the organisation’s Code of Conduct).

Documentation of the issue and follow up must be undertaken by the NSO as part of its record keeping.

Examples of social media policy breaches:

  • Using your organisation’s name, motto, crest and/or logo in a way that would result in a negative impact for the organisation, clubs and/or its members.
  • Posting or sharing any content that is abusive, harassing, threatening, demeaning or defamatory.
  • Posting or sharing any content that includes insulting, obscene, offensive, provocative or hateful language.
  • Posting or sharing any content, which if said in-person during the playing of the game would result in a breach of the rules of the game.
  • Posting or sharing any content in breach of your anti-discrimination, racial discrimination, sexual harassment or other similar policy.
  • Posting or sharing any content that is a breach of any state or Commonwealth law such as those relating to defamation or anti-discrimination.
  • Posting or sharing any material to your social media channels that infringes the intellectual property rights of others.
  • Posting or sharing material that brings, or risks bringing your organisations, its affiliates, its sport, its officials, members or sponsors into disrepute. In this context, bringing a person or organisation into disrepute is to lower the reputation of that person or organisation in the eyes of the ordinary members of the public.

External regulatory reporting

For serious issues of cyber bullying or instances of image-based abuse, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in Australia can help with advice on how to report incidents to social media services or the Office's complaints service itself.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides assistance with common social media issues, including:

  • cyberbullying
  • image-based abuse
  • cyber abuse
  • offensive or illegal content
  • sexting
  • unwanted contact
  • social engineering
  • social networking

In sport, cyberbullying may look like online racism; targeted threats; intimidation to team members and opposition players, coaches and teams; defaming of referees, coaches, management; or unsubstantiated claims of drug-taking or favouritism. Where issues arise and a young person under 18 years is the target, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner can help. The Office works closely with social media partners to remove serious cyberbullying from the internet.

Image-based abuse – known as ‘revenge porn’, ‘intimate image abuse’, ‘image-based sexual abuse’ or the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, is another harmful online activity that can affect athletes. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner will provide assistance to individuals who have been subjected to image-based abuse.

To learn more about online issues, strategies and solutions – and how to use technology to your advantage – visit

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