Hoof has a variety of features to retain users on the free social networking platform and a zero-tolerance abuse policy.
a British technology start-up Hoof’s founders say they aim to “improve the standard of football debate” with a new software that, unlike Twitter, Facebook, and other social media giants, eliminates abusive postings at the source.
It’s tricky, if football and social media had a relationship status.
On the one hand, they benefit each other since huge games and news increase interaction on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, allowing athletes and businesses to flourish and connect directly to their following.
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On the other hand, massive abuse – much of it discriminatory – directed towards players such as Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka, as well as the inability of the largest platforms to weed it out, has poisoned the well, bringing heavy condemnation and turning off some users.
With Hoof, a free app billed as the first football-only social network, the British owners of a new start-up believe they have discovered a solution.
It has a zero-tolerance policy for abuse and discrimination and employs a combination of human moderators and artificial intelligence to prevent offensive remarks from being published.
Hoof’s mentality contrasts sharply with the laissez-faire stance of the main social media sites, where free expression is prioritized.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen most major nations attempt to enact effective legislation against them. Nobody made it,” claimed Ben Simpson, Hoof’s co-founder and CEO.
“Unfortunately, I believe they are now above the law in the sense that they control what happens on their platforms.”
According to co-founder and chief marketing officer Jake Sorkin, Hoof has a list of forbidden phrases and themes that its designers believe have no place in talks about the beautiful game.
“Social media loves to make it seem like a highly sophisticated subject, but football is simple,” he explains. “We take a proactive approach, whereas other social media platforms are reactive.”
Anticipating rises at toxic points, such as when England players Rashford and Saka miss penalties at Euro 2020, is critical, according to Simpson.
“Abuse is relatively easy to model since the individuals who perpetrate it are stupid. It’s a well-known pattern.”
Hoof’s second major selling point is a set of features, such as live in-game data, leaderboards, and line-up graphs, that are aimed to eliminate the need for players to transfer between their app and others.
Simpson’s company’s objective is to “elevate the level of football debate,” as his name is an abbreviation for Home Of Online Football.
“It’s by increasing people’s tools and features, as well as safeguarding them from racism and abuse,” he says.
“People assume it’s only footballers that understand it, but everyone with 10,000 followers does. Every time you offer a viewpoint, you will be pelted with insults.”
After missing penalties for England, Rashford and Saka experienced backlash on social media (Image: Getty)
Simpson came up with the idea for Hoof while studying business at Bristol University, where he met third co-founder and technology expert Tommy Leasor.
They collaborated on the idea with Sorkin, a football social media guru with a 20 million-strong following, and acquired £450,000 from UK angel investors to create and market the app.
Board member Greg Swimer, chief technical officer of City Football Group, the parent company of Premier League winners Manchester City, is among the trio’s advisers.
Following their debut this month, their aim will be to build the user base, in part through influencer advertising, and to fine-tune the product before introducing any revenue-generating components.
Advertising is planned, but not for gambling firms because this would limit the app to people above the age of 18, and a subscription model is being discussed because Hoof incorporates more complex elements like live audio and video.
Other sports-focused social media sites have failed, but Hoof’s creators claim they made a mistake by stretching their net too wide when only football produces adequate debate, and they have relied on the sponsored support of sportsmen who make only cosmetic attempts to participate.
“The fact is that social media is driven by users,” Sorkin argues.
“We want to shake things up in the community and reach out to engaged people across platforms who are frustrated with the current state of affairs,” Simpson adds.
“We want to increase our audience to millions and illustrate that things don’t have to be this way. It can be rebuilt better.”