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US Congress questions game developers over “harassment and extremism”

A group of seven lawmakers in the US Congress have sent a letter to the world’s biggest video game companies, asking them what steps they are taking to combat “harassment and extremism” in their online releases.

The letter, which was sent on Friday 16 December, cited the latest ‘Hate and Harassment in Online Games’ report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as a basis for the discussion. The ADL has released such a report each year since 2019, with the view of offering information about extremist and toxic online behaviour. According to this year’s report, which was released on 6 December, “[a]n estimated 2.3 million teens were exposed to white supremacist ideology” in a selection of online video games – this amounts to around 15% of gamers aged 10-17, and 20% of adult gamers.

The letter states: “We are writing to better understand the processes you have in place to handle player reports of harassment and extremism encounters in your online games. Authorities around the world like the United States’ Department of Homeland Security and the EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Network are taking notice and launching investigations into how extremists use online gaming spaces to radicalize young people.”

The lawmakers state that they are looking to understand what data the companies collect “on in-game player reporting mechanisms and automatic bans for inappropriate behaviour”, and whether they would consider “releasing those data in regular transparency reporting”. They also asked the companies how they identify “extremist content in [their] games”, and whether they have policies in place to address it.

The ADL observes that “hate and extremism in online games [has] worsened” since the 2020 report

The seven signatories are all from the Democrat Party. It was sent to the corporate leadership of Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Microsoft, Riot Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive, Tencent, Ubisoft, Valve Corp., and the makers of Among UsRoblox and PUBG (although, notably, not Nintendo of America and other Asian companies, including Bandai Namco and Sega). Although the letter is not a subpoena or a summons to appear before a committee, Massachusetts representative Lori Trahan said that “parents like me with young kids are going to be paying attention to how they respond”.

According to the ADL report, only Roblox Corp. “has an explicit, public-facing policy against extremism”. It also mentioned that Microsoft recently published its first report on online moderation, noting both the behaviour reported and observed on Xbox Live, and the actions it has taken in response.

However, the ADL observes that “hate and extremism in online games [has] worsened” since the 2020 report, and it cites several examples of crimes and radicalism linked to video games. The accused shooter in the 14 May mass murder at a Buffalo supermarket attributed his radicalisation to Blood and Iron, a player-made game on the Roblox platform, while the man who attacked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband on 22 October attributed his views to Gamergate.


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