World Rugby announce ground-breaking charges for online abuse at RWC 2023


Pending law enforcement cases are among the key actions and outcomes from the ground-breaking online protection service put in place to support match officials and players across the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

More than 900 social media accounts, including those belonging to all match officials with public-facing social accounts (including their families) and World Rugby’s official channels, were comprehensively monitored by Signify Group during the seven-week tournament held in France, the biggest service of its kind in the sport.

The impact of the service comes as World Rugby releases the trailer for ‘Whistleblowers,’ an access-all-areas film following the match officials’ journey to and through Rugby World Cup 2023, which also highlights the scale of online abuse they faced.

Working in partnership with Signify Group and its artificial intelligence Threat Matrix service, the system identified, investigated and provided support relating to abuse and threat received by match officials, players, teams and officials throughout the tournament.

Focusing on open-source X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram as well as private direct messaging, the system covered text, image and emoji use and operated across 35 languages and dialects.

At its core, the goal of the service was to be action-orientated.

To this end, World Rugby can confirm that one individual in Australia has been charged for online abuse, cases in other jurisdictions are pending, and 1,600 social media accounts have been reported to platforms for breach of their community guidelines.

In the case of more extreme abusive accounts flagged to platforms, takedown rates are running at approximately 90 per cent.

World Rugby have also confirmed that it has extended the partnership with Signify Group to cover international match officials operating across the men’s and women’s test arenas in 2024.

Rugby World Cup 2023 final referee Wayne Barnes said:

“Those who abuse or threaten players, match officials or their families must realise there will be consequences for their actions. It is great to see World Rugby leading the way and seeing the first charges being made against those individuals who send such appalling messages.

“There is simply no place for that behaviour in rugby, in sport or in society.”

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