THE AFL has welcomed a move from social media giant Facebook that aims to protect players from online abuse, including racist messages on Instagram.
Working alongside sports anti-discrimination organisations like the UK's Kick it Out initiative, the Facebook-owned Instagram has developed tools aimed to protect high-profile individuals like athletes on the social media platform.
One is a new feature to filter out abusive direct message requests while another gives users the option to both block someone's Instagram account and simultaneously block new accounts that a person may create, therefore stopping them from continuing the harassment.
Carlton veteran Eddie Betts and West Coast gun Liam Ryan are among the players to have received racist messages or comments on Instagram, and AFL general manager of inclusion and social policy Tanya Hosch says the changes to the social media platform are a much-needed step.
"We have been working with Facebook Australia over the past year on the importance of protecting our players from abuse and harassment on Facebook and Instagram," Hosch said in a statement.
"With the announcement today, we feel like they've listened and taken a valuable step in the right direction.
"These new tools will make a significant difference in protecting our players and ensuring that their experience on Instagram is a positive one, whether that's connecting with their fans or sharing the great things about the sport.
"This is also a valuable update in supporting the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, and any other person who faces discrimination and hate speech, to have a safer and more positive experience online.
"There is more work to be done and we will be continuing to support Facebook and Instagram in developing more safeguards for the Australian community."
The direct message tool filters out direct message requests that include offensive words, phrases and emojis from a predefined list of offensive terms, while users can also add other terms to a custom list.
All direct message requests that contain those offensive words, phrases or emojis will be automatically filtered into a separate hidden requests folder.
If the user chooses to open the folder the message text will be covered so they are not confronted with offensive language, unless they tap to uncover it.
The user would then have the option to accept the message request, delete it or report it.
Players would be able to turn their direct message request filters on and off in a new dedicated 'hidden words' section of their privacy settings.
Instagram users were already able to apply a filter for offensive terms in the comments of their posts.