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'Occasionally you have to go to the police and make a big fuss'

By Liam Heagney

Trending on RugbyPass

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It’s three weeks now since rugby took a united stance against social media abuse, numerous teams and players in the game in Britain opting not to post anything over the course of the bank holiday weekend in the Draw The Line campaign to remind so-called fans that enough is enough when it comes to some of the rotten personalised online commentaries. 

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Austin Healey and Ugo Monye were to the fore in leading the charge from a BT Sport perspective, the pair expressing how sick and tired they have become with the repeated nonsense that invades their lives. Fellow pundit Ben Kay counts himself luckier than his two colleagues. For whatever reason, he doesn’t find himself provoking the anger of the keyboard warriors as much but it doesn’t mean he is immune to what goes on. 

It’s only two years ago when 2021 Challenge Cup finalists Leicester, the club where ex-lock Kay is now non-executive director, were forced to go to the police following an avalanche of social media abuse when the Tigers facing the first of their two consecutive eleventh-place Gallagher Premiership finishes.

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At the time, skipper Tom Youngs explained: “We have not been good enough and accept that it means a lot to our supporters, who are entitled to have their say on our performances. However, no family members are deserving of being pulled into that criticism and nothing of the sort myself and players have received in recent weeks is appropriate, ever.”

The outlook at Leicester is on the up now that Steve Borthwick is eleven months into his root-and-branch transformation to stop the on-field results rot, an improvement that faces a litmus test when Tigers take on Montpellier in Friday night’s Challenge Cup final at Twickenham. Kay accepts that the mood surrounding the club is far more upbeat than it was but that doesn’t excuse the personalised attacks that overstepped the mark in 2019. 

“It’s someone being overly clever, it’s probably fans who were just really upset and occasionally you have to go to the police and make a big fuss for people to realise the consequences of their actions,” said the 2003 England World Cup-winning second-rower who wants social media companies to become more accountable for the content on their platforms.

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“I’m not as controversial a pundit as some people. As a result, I wouldn’t imagine I get as much grief. People will say stuff on Twitter as a throwaway thought that they would never say to your face and often not with any malice. There has been a couple of times where I have responded to people and they have totally changed their tone, it’s ‘Thanks very much for getting back to me, I see your point now’ whereas before it was ‘You’re the worst pundit I have ever seen in my life, you’re one-eyed and biased’. 

“People have to be a bit more cautious that what they write can affect people. They think it’s a throwaway thing and nothing will ever come back from it but it is like posting a letter through someone’s doorbox. I’d like to see the social media companies making sure that really horrific abuse of people, the racist abuse and the stuff likely to affect people’s mental health, I’d love to see a way that they could control that. Even if it was people having some sort of identification before they can sign up. 

“People say you can’t do that because you then won’t get any whistleblowers… but you can’t have a direct message coming into your phone from someone who wants to have a stab at you with 300 numbers at the end of their (made-up) name because they are not willing to put their real name to it.”

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'Occasionally you have to go to the police and make a big fuss'

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