Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s threats to step away from social media may have forced the FIA into action after president Mohammed Ben Sulayem revealed discussions have been held with tech bosses to tackle abuse on platforms. The F1 stars have both spoken out publicly about the torrent of abuse sent their way on a daily basis, which could force them to remove their accounts from websites if they fail to tackle the abuse.
Hamilton, who was mercilessly booed at the Mexican Grand Prix, recently said “we should all come off social media” after receiving racial abuse over the years: “Social media is getting more and more toxic as the years go on and I think we should all come off it ultimately,” he said.
“Mental health is such a prominent thing right now. So many people are reading the comments and the stuff people say, and it is hurtful.
“Fortunately, I don’t read the stuff but the media platforms need to do more to protect people, particularly young kids and women, but at the moment they are not doing that so I think this will just continue.”
His 2021 championship rival Verstappen agreed that websites like Twitter and Instagram are “very toxic”, adding: “Social media is a very toxic place and if you are constantly being like that live on TV then you are making it worse instead of trying to make it better,” he said.
Former race director Michael Masi was hounded out of the sport after his last-lap decision effectively handed Verstappen a clear run to pass Hamilton the final lap of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last season, leading to the Dutchman winning the title in controversial circumstances. The Australian said he had received death threats to himself and his family, in addition to abuse on social media.
And only last week, Fernando Alonso leapt to the defence of FIA race steward Silvia Bellot after she received death threats from race fans for her part in penalising the Alpine driver at the United States Grand Prix.
Ben Sulayem, who said the FIA are in discussions with social media bosses to find a solution to the growing issue, hit out at the treatment they received and fears that people will be put off working in such roles if the abuse continues.
“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,” Ben Sulayem wrote in a column for Motorsport.com.
“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.”