Phil Spencer, Xbox executive at Microsoft, has said that the Xbox Live platform is not designed for free speech. The comments were made in a recent interview, where Spencer was asked about the link between gaming and the contentious state of American politics.
Spencer is part of the Senior Leadership Team at Microsoft as the executive vice president of Gaming, heading the Xbox brand and overseeing its global creative teams. He has held the position since 2017, but has had a long history with Microsoft, first joining the company as an intern in the late 1980s. Gaming fans may recognize him from his regular appearances at Microsoft’s E3 conferences since 2010, as well as other gaming events such as The Game Awards.
The comments on free speech came as part of an interview with The New York Times, conducted by Kara Swisher, who asked Spencer if there was a relationship between gaming and division in American politics. Swisher cited Steve Bannon’s past comments on harnessing gaming communities as political tools, quoting a comment Bannon made about the Gamergate controversy. Spencer flatly rejected the idea that Xbox Live is designed to facilitate political discourse, arguing that the service is principally made for game-related activities.
“One of the things we’ve stated about our social network is we’re not a free speech platform. We’re a platform around interactive entertainment and video games… We’re not there to allow any conversation to happen on our platform.”
Spencer’s views are consistent with previous comments he made about the role Microsoft has in facilitating Xbox Live. His efforts span back to 2019, when he spearheaded an initiative to redefine Microsoft’s community guidelines, intended to eliminate online harassment. Their focus was on hate, sexual harassment, and discrimination, but allowed for banter and “trash talk,” supposing it wasn’t abusive in nature. At the time, Spencer also firmly rejected the idea that Xbox Live was a “free speech platform,” adding that he wants Xbox’s motivations to be clear when it comes to developing their community platform.
Some argue that online platforms (particularly those owned by American entities) ought to defend the First Amendment right to free speech, while others argue that content moderation is fundamental to online communities, which are constantly vulnerable to hate speech and abuse from anonymous bad actors. For Xbox Live, which limits its scope to game-related activities, the issue is perhaps less complex than for services like Twitter and Facebook. However, the problem of how to moderate content effectively remains a challenge, and Spencer doesn’t have all the answers.
“I think we all have a long way to go. You could tell me that’s a lame answer. That’s all right,” Spencer said when asked about the effectivity of moderation in gaming communities. Spencer isn’t the only high-profile figure from Xbox to publicly speak in favor of better moderation. In December, Xbox co-creator Seamus Blackley recently denounced toxic player behavior after a video surfaced of a female gamer being verbally harassed in Halo Infinite. Blackley described the incident as not being “the future for Xbox Live we envisioned,” and called for Microsoft and the gaming community to do more to combat the issues.
The balance between player freedom and protection is no easy task to get right, but Microsoft has at least taken a firm position. For many gamers, Xbox’s continued commitment to moderating communities and providing a gaming-focused platform is progress of a kind, even if there is a long way to go.
Source: New York Times (via IGN)