Democrat Lori Trahan Looking at “Legislative Actions” To “Shine A Light On How Extremism Exists In Online Games”
U.S Representative Lori Trahan revealed she's looking to pursue "legislative actions" in order to tackle what she considers extremism in online games.
U.S Representative Lori Trahan revealed she’s looking to pursue “legislative actions” in order to tackle what she considers extremism in online games.
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Previously Trahan was one of seven Democratic members of Congress who wrote joint-letters to major gaming companies expressing concern over extremism in gaming. The letter was sent to Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Innersloth, Microsoft, PUBG Corp, Riot Games, Roblox, Sony, Square Enix, Tencent, Ubisoft, Valve, and Take-Two Interactive.
The letter was prompted by the ADL’s “Hate and Harassment in Online Games 2022” report, claiming that 20% of adults and 15% of young people surveyed had been exposed to white-supremacist ideology. Four in five adults and three out of five young people had also experienced harassment in online games.
In the letter Trahan and her cohorts called on the gaming industry to be more open about how they handled “extremism.”
In one of the letters addressed to Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick obtained by Axios, Trahan and her Democrat comrades asserted that online games are “are widely used spaces where millions of people overwhelmingly report experiencing positive social behaviors and find a sense of community and belonging with other players.”
However, in the next sentence they also claim online games are “spaces where hate, harassment, and extremism can proliferate, and we are concerned about the total volume as well as the increase in player reports of these negative encounters.”
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From there it goes on to cite the Anti-Defamation League report that claims “77% of adults and 66% of teens have reported harassment in online games, up from 71% of adults and 60% of teens since last year.”
The letter continues, “This represents almost 80 million American adults and over 16 million Americans under the age of 18 encountering some form of discrimination, physical threats, and sexual
harassment, among many other kinds of hateful behavior.3 This in-game harassment has lasting effects that continue into the real world, where people report negative impacts on school performance, disruptions in their personal relationships, and feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal ideation.”
Next, it points to “identity-based harassment” noting, “This identity-based harassment has intersectionality with the amount of conspiracy theories and misinformation reported, where topics such as Holocaust denialism, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and covid-related anti-Asian sentiment are still prevalent.”
The letter then moves to “white-supremacist extremism” claiming, “15% of gamers under 18 and 20% of adults (up more than double from last year’s count of 8%) have reported these kind of encounters. White supremacists actively use online games as recruitment for their ideologies, using in-game voice and text chat to on-ramp people to their beliefs, often targeting vulnerable youths.”
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The letter concluded demanding Kotic answer a number of questions:
1. How are you assessing and mitigating the risks and harms of in-game harassment and extremism in your online games? What plans do you have to further address this issue?
2. What mechanisms do you have in-game and externally (such as official websites, forums, and support pages) for players to report in-game harassment?
3. How are player reports of in-game harassment handled, how large is the team that reviews those reports, and what automated tools are used in-game and by your review team? What investments are you making in ensuring the development and improvement of these systems?
4. How do you integrate feedback from groups that represent communities most impacted by online hate and harassment into the process of improving reporting in your games?
5. How do you identify extremist content in your games? Can you specify which of your currently existing policies address extremist content?
6. What data do you collect on in-game player reporting mechanisms and automatic bans for inappropriate behavior? Will you consider releasing those data in regular transparency
Trahan also provided a further statement to Axios at the time, “When we talk about holding technology companies accountable for what they’re pushing toward our kids, gaming companies must be a part of that conversation.”
She added, “Make no mistake — parents like me with young kids are going to be paying attention to how they respond.”
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also expressed his concerns to Axios. “Online Multiplayer Games are more than media and entertainment outlets–they are social spaces where people of all ages connect through concerts, protests, conversations, and more. Sadly though, ADL research has shown for the fourth year in a row that these spaces are being increasingly filled with hate and harassment.”
“It’s time for players, parents, lawmakers, civil society, and communities to require more from the companies who profit off players’ interactions,” he added.
Seemingly in response to the letter, Activision Blizzard announced it would seek stricter rules and AI moderation, their subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment announced audio transcription for reported voice chat (albeit, that was planned before the letter), and Ubisoft announced teaming up with UK police to track and arrest gamers for in-game speech that posed a threat to life.
One Senator, Maggie Hassan (Democrat, New Hampshire) also grilled Valve once again over Steam users’ alleged “neo-Nazi, extremist, racial supremacist, misogynistic, and other hateful sentiments.”
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Axios’ latest report revealed actions other companies took shortly after the letter. Tencent stated they would prioritize reports from minors. Epic Games noted they had over 1,500 specialists to handle reports. Sony highlighted how players could record offending interactions in their reports.
However, it’s reported that out of the 14 companies who responded to Trahan’s questionnaire, nine didn’t provide details on how they would assess and tackle this supposed “extremism.” This seems to be question 1, but could easily apply to any and even all six questions.
One exception was Roblox, who stated they had a team to handle terrorism and violent extremism within their titular game.
Trahan spokesperson Francis Grubar told Axios that the congresswoman wouldn’t be taking no answer for an answer. “Congresswoman Trahan is actively looking at possible avenues for legislative actions to further shine a light on how extremism exists in online games and explore what can be done by regulators, companies and gamers to better address the issue.”
Trahan did speak for herself, stating “I’m disappointed that the majority of companies failed to address some of our most urgent questions, including providing us with their policies around extremism, as well as transparency reporting around these topics.”
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reportedly sent its own letters to the senators, highlighting how the industry already uses parental controls and moderation. Though condemning white supremacy and other hateful content, the ESA also insisted concern and panic had been raised over an excessively broad use of “extremism.”
“Suggestions that playing video games expose players to ‘extremist’ behavior cause a false alarm and create a false reality,” the ESA’s letter reportedly stated. “The reality is that millions of Americans are engaging in fun, positive and valuable play on our platforms.”
The letter added, “That is because our members place a high priority on creating safe and inclusive environments. And where harmful behavior surfaces, our industry addresses it promptly.”
In a separate statement, ESA spokeswoman Aubrey Quinn defended the gaming industry, asserting “The industry takes this issue very seriously and it’s frustrating to hear it’s not seen that way.”
What do you make of Trahan’s promise to pursue legislative action?
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