Brisbane rugby fan convicted for ‘vile and toxic’ online abuse of TMO during RWC, as WR goes troll hunting


A rugby fan in Brisbane has been convicted for abusing World Cup match officials on Facebook in a landmark case hailed by World Rugby.

Aaron Isaia, a 22-year-old youth worker, who was born in New Zealand, was convicted by Australian authorities of one count of using a carriage service to menace or harass via online communication, after pleading guilty in Beenleigh Magistrates Court.

Described as a “devout Christian and youth worker” Isaia used social media to abuse TMO Brian MacNeice, his wife and children after an incident in England’s World Cup win over Samoa.

Officials were criticised after Samoa were denied a third try in the first half for a knock-on. England won 18-17.

Television Match Official Brian MacNeice poses for a portrait during the Match Officials Photocall on September 02, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chris Lee – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Isaia, who was given a $1000 fine suspended for 12 months, was identified through a World Rugby initiative with Signify Group. He was caught by a service called Threat Matrix, with World Rugby saying they will be monitoring online abuse of match officials and their families over the next three years.

Alan Gilpin, World Rugby’s chief executive, said in a statement: “World Rugby welcomes this landmark outcome. The vile and toxic abuse is an all too common occurrence for many sports men and women and public figures, and we hope that this sends a very strong message to online trolls that such behaviour is totally unacceptable and that the sport and the authorities are prepared to take action.

“We are delighted to be extending our relationship with Signify Group to tackle online abuse in our sport. In addition to the support provided to our match officials, the partnership has enabled us to focus on the insights that help us better understand the triggers, tactics and threats and how best to mitigate them.”

Tempers flare between players of England and Samoa during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between England and Samoa at Stade Pierre Mauroy on October 07, 2023 in Lille, France. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Nine’s A Current Affair reported that the messages the 22-year-old father sent were “too inappropriate to be relayed, but were sent to the referee and his wife – even mentioning their children.”

They reported Magistrate Shane Elliott told Isaia that “officials around the world in all different sports shouldn’t have to put up with abuse … particularly … aimed at family members”.

The magistrate took into account that Isaia was intoxicated and felt remorse.

Signify Group chief executive Jonathan Hirshler said Isaia had been caught by an AI-driven system called the Threat Matrix, to identify alleged abuse.

“Using machine learning, it’s able to pick up instances of targeted abuse when they’re being directed at a particular athlete (or) a particular account,” Hirshler told A Current Affair.

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“Sending abusive messages threatening violent messages to coaches, match officials, their families and their partners is completely unacceptable.”

During the World Cup, Signify monitored 1.3 million social media posts targeting players, coaches and match officials with 54,000 identified as potentially abusive.

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