World Rugby, the organizing body of world rugby and conductor of the World Cup, which begins in France on Friday September 8, wants to hunt down insults, harment and racist messages on social networks targeting referees and the players.
The body announced on Wednesday September 6 that it had entered into a partnership with a company specializing in data analysis, Signify Group. This will be responsible in particular for detecting problematic messages in “more than 30 languages” on social networks (in particular X, formerly Twitter, and Instagram), explains World Rugby in a press release.
This effort will come up against the difficulty – already encountered by large digital platforms – of correctly and automatically identifying in the flow of messages posted those which contravene the rules of social networks. Automatic detection systems have difficulty characterizing the second degree, the nuance and the subtleties of the language. They therefore tend to consider messages that are not problematic to be problematic, or on the contrary to leave comments online that should be deleted.
Messages identified may be reported to the platforms that host them so that they can delete them. Racist, insulting or haring remarks are in fact very often contrary to the internal rules of the main platforms. The problem is that companies in the sector are regularly singled out for the slowness and randomness of their moderation, including when the content reported is clearly contrary to these internal rules.
Third level of the system: World Rugby will be able to transmit information concerning the most serious comments to the national federations in order to “that they ban individuals from national and international rugby events”. Finally, for content that requires a response, particularly legal, the world rugby body may also report certain messages to the authorities in order to “unmask the worst offenders”.
“A clear message of zero tolerance”
This is not the first time that a major sports federation has tackled insults aimed at players on social networks. During the Football World Cup in 2022, FIFA launched a similar system. At the end of the competition, the world federation revealed that 19,000 offensive messages had been detected. France had been the most targeted team, followed by Brazil and England.
World Rugby hopes to send “a clear message of zero tolerance: online abuse will be monitored and action will be taken if necessary”. “It is essential that we do everything we can to protect players and match officials. It is logical and timely to extend this protection to social networks”also explains Dominic Rumbles, World Rugby communications director.
Rugby may well be a sport to which many attribute “values” supposedly absent from other more media-focused sports such as football, but it is regularly affected by insulting messages. The best referee on the planet, Englishman Wayne Barnes, recently revealed that he had considered putting away the whistle after his family was targeted on social networks by threats of violence. The second row of the French XV Romain Taofifénua denounced in the spring a racist message appearing under a photo posted on Instagram where he appears alongside his teammates Sipili Falatea, Peato Mauvaka, Reda Wardi and Sekou Macalou.