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Phil Spencer: “Xbox Live is Not a Free Speech Platform,” Vows to Curb Toxicity

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Head of Xbox Phil Spencer has stood firm against harassment and abuse via the Xbox Live service, even to the point stating the service was not a free speech platform.

Speaking via Microsoft’s blog in May of this year, Spencer laid out how games are a unifying force “for everyone,” and that the industry “must promote and protect the safety of all.”

“We commit to be vigilant, proactive, and swift. Our Xbox Safety team is nicknamed the “Defenders of Joy” because we will defend you in every humanly and technologically possible way, so gaming remains fun. We will identify potentials for abuse and misuse on our platform and will fix problems quickly. We are also intent on expanding the composition of our safety team so wide-ranging perspectives can help us identify future safety problems and solutions.”

During that time, the Xbox Community Standards were also updated and official Club community managers were given “proactive content moderation features that will help create safe spaces for fans to discuss their favorite games.”

Spencer recently spoke to Kotaku‘s Stephen Totilio about the various ways Microsoft was aiming to make gaming more inclusive and being clear about it from the start.

“I’ve been public before, Xbox Live is not a free speech platform. It is not a place where anybody can come and say anything. And as we’re working to ensure it’s a safe and inclusive environment for everybody, I don’t want to be opaque about it. I want to be out there front and center so that you understand our motivation.”

Spencer also elaborated more on the official Club managers gaining more moderation power, comparing it to parental controls:

“Today we have parental controls, but we looked at our parental controls system and said, “Why can’t everybody use them?” Why are parental controls and this idea of, as a parent I have a child account and I can kind of mandate screen time and spending limits and what kind of content I see—why can’t anybody on their own account go and set that? We have a roadmap of us continuing to build that out, and some of this is us looking at some of the constructs we had under the child accounts. We want to blow that out a bit and really let anybody put those kinds of constructs on their account.

The intersection of [Looking For Group] and Clubs is really interesting, because now on Xbox Live I can filter my LFG through my Club affiliations, which is a nice way to be able to say, “Hey, I don’t like swearing online so I’m going to be in a no-swearing club. And I’m going to use that as my matchmaking service.” So it lets me curate the people I end up in an online session with. It only works if you’ve got a Club moderator who can moderate who is in a club and making sure people are actually adhering to the rules.

And so all of this is about taking, one, a lot of the controls that are already in place and are really focused on a child account and expanding them out, and then continuing to build on this. The blog post was kind of to not miss the “why” in why we are doing this.”

Totilo then asked that since Microsoft had developed the Xbox Adaptive Controller to help those with motor issues play video games, whether this meant “if this signaled some breakthroughs or some real prioritization of finding a way to make the online gaming space a less hateful, less misogynistic space, a less racist space.”

Spencer then explained with an example; how with titles such as Minecraft, Microsoft had a “responsibility that we have with a game that spans such a broad age range and how many kids have their first game experience on a parent’s phone in the backseat of the car. When that goes to online, our opportunity to kind of set a—”rules” is probably too strong, but let’s just say a “common code of conduct”—and try to set some expectations.”

“We take that very seriously. And not just about Minecraft, but all of Xbox Live. I would say Minecraft, just at the scale it’s at, we feel that it is part of the responsibility in a big way. I think when we look forward, when we talk about toxicity online, let’s not only relate it to gaming, clearly. It’s message posts after articles online. It’s Twitter. It’s a lot of different places.

I think the anonymity of the internet and the ability to comment to anybody is a really difficult place to unlock. One of the things we find in gaming that’s actually really helpful to us is that because your Xbox Live account has friends and identity and state, there seems to be—and it’s good—there seems to be a lot more care that a player takes in their identity and its reputation. Banning somebody on Twitter, it takes me five seconds to create another account.

So when we think about our ability in the long run to actually create a system that actually has some amount of capability to actually impact behavior, we think the fact that our account has friends and history and relationships gives us a good relationship with a customer to actually impart some real rules and responsibilities. But I think it’s just as much about gaming as it is about a community online.

It was five years ago when I became head of Xbox, and Satya Nadella, the CEO, he said, especially when I moved to report to him: I don’t want you to think about how gaming can help Microsoft. I want you to think about how Microsoft can help us make inroads in gaming, and I want you to use the platform of Microsoft in gaming to stand for things that you guys care about.”

That was an empowering statement from our CEO, and we leaned into it. And he’s been great in supporting the endeavors. And you know this: There’s backlash any time. I can change my Xbox logo, my Twitter account to a rainbow logo this month, and there’s backlash against that.”

Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.