- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Social media companies are not alone in censoring content online. Xbox said it has cracked down on content millions more times in 2022 than it did last year. 

The gaming brand said its new approach to cracking down on content yielded 4.78 million proactive enforcement actions in 2022’s first six months compared with fewer than 1 million in all of last year.

Xbox, owned by Microsoft, said most of those censorship actions were directed against inauthentic accounts, representing 4.33 million of the 4.78 million enforcement decisions the brand took against gamers. Enforcement actions typically involve a temporary suspension preventing someone from playing a game, according to the report.

The inauthentic accounts sought to manipulate players with spam, attempted to cheat at games, inflated friend and follower numbers, and did other things that would create uneven playing fields for gamers.

The rest of the enforcement actions involved restrictions on adult sexual content, fraud, bullying, profanity, phishing, hate speech and real-world harm.

“Our content moderation agents are on-staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to make sure the content and conduct found on our platform adheres to our Community Standards,” Xbox said in its first-ever transparency report published this week.

Xbox gamers who have been banned do not feel welcome on Microsoft’s platform. Angry gamers have taken to Microsoft’s customer support forums and social media to register complaints about the censorship they have faced. 

A gamer using the pseudonym “Call Me Mode” complained last week that the gamer received two wrongful suspensions in three days and Xbox personnel said it would not help restore his access. 

“This is a big problem and I feel as if I am being targeted by someone on the Xbox Enforcement Team,” the gamer wrote on Microsoft’s community forum. “I’ve been playing Xbox for 2/3 of my lifetime and it would literally break me if I lost my account over something like this.”

Another gamer griped that Microsoft provided no explanation for the restriction on the gamer’s account and sent only a vague email. Xbox player “A. User” wrote on Microsoft’s community forum last week that the company needs to be fairer with its bans and suspend others. 

“Spread the word, and tell your story about your experiences with their garbage enforcement,” the gamer wrote. “Let’s start a movement. Because I’m sick of Xbox not listening. #FixXboxModeration.”

The proactive censorship in 2022’s first six months increased “9x from the same period last year” and let the gaming platform remove more content and stop conduct before players became aware, the company said.

“We believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of gaming, free from fear and intimidation, and within the boundaries you set,” Dave McCarthy, Xbox corporate vice president, said on the brand’s website. 

Alongside the proactive content crackdown Xbox revealed, it responded to gamers reporting problems. Xbox said its reactive work resulted in 2.53 million enforcements during 2022’s first six months, down from 3.49 million over the same period last year but up slightly from 2021’s last six months. 

“We acknowledge that negative activity can and has taken place,” Xbox’s transparency report said. “This conduct is not okay and goes against the community we strive to create — a place that is vibrant, safe, and welcoming.”

Unhappy gamers also shared complaints about Xbox’s content moderation on social media. Twitter user “Mikey V.” said Tuesday that they had faced 10 suspensions in a row. 

Microsoft has acknowledged the complicated challenges in moderating online content. In 2019, Mr. McCarthy announced that Xbox was giving gamers new tools for the automated filtration of messages. 

The tools had different filter levels, including “Friendly, Medium, Mature and Unfiltered.”

Mr. McCarthy said at the time that context was difficult to identify in the gaming realm. 

“It’s one thing to say you’re going to go on a killing spree when you’re getting ready for a multiplayer mission in Halo, and it’s another when that’s uttered in another setting,” Mr. McCarthy told The Verge. “Finding ways for us to understand context and nuance is a never-ending battle.”

Microsoft’s censorship struggle matches other challenges plaguing social media platforms. Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, has sought to position his platform as a venue for free speech while grappling with impersonators creating doubt about the reliability of information shared on the social media platform. 

Mr. McCarthy has said his company’s service does not provide a venue for free speech. He told The Verge in 2019 that Xbox Live “is not a free speech platform” but a curated community with varying degrees of personal freedom. 

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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