Applying cognitive analytic theory to understand the abuse of athletes on Twitter

Jenny Meggs*, Wasim Ahmed

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose/rationale: Athletes and governing bodies have raised ethical concerns related to the negative psychological effects of Twitter for professional athletes. There remained a need to systematically understand the processes involved in negative fan athlete social media interactions by categorising social media data using psychological theory. This study aimed to examine the attributional (specific or global negative comments) and contextual (sport-specific and general life context or “no context”) factors of Twitter content that were Tweeted by fans about high profile sports people.Research methods: In order to retrieve preliminary social media data to explore this phenomenon, Tweet data was collected data using Twitter’s Search API related to the top 10 highest-paid athletes (a crude initial ranking of “high profile”) as ranked by Forbes, 2020 and the data was retrieved on 26 April 2020. The search and retrieval strategy used a combination of sentiment analysis and qualitative filtering in order to isolate negative tweets directed at sports athletes.Results and findings: Preliminary findings highlighted that negative tweets directed at sports athletes can be accurately classified into three broad themes: (i) global negative projections (no context) (ii) global negative projections (sport performance context), and (iii) specific negative projections (personal context). The socio ecological theory was used as a holistic model to understand the broader processes involved in fan athlete social media interaction when considering these types of negative engagement between fans and athletes.Implications: Twitter can be used as a means for the public to direct negative projections towards athletes and our study puts forward a number of applied and research recommendations for researchers and sport management staff to educate and protect athletes from the negative consequences of “twitter abuse”.

Original languageEnglish
JournalManaging Sport and Leisure
Early online date27 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Nov 2021


  • high profile sports people
  • negative projections
  • socio ecological theory
  • Twitter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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