Grip: The Biology of Compulsion (ihobo)
Sheri Graner Ray: Blogger

Microsoft Homophobia?

I have read a report of a gamer being banned from Xbox Live because she identified as a lesbian. If this is true, it is a serious allegation against Microsoft, and one that could lead to a class action suit or similar legal action by civil rights groups.

Here's an extract from a report of the incident:

Teresa says that she was harassed by other players and later suspended from Xbox Live because she identified herself as a lesbian in her profile. When she appealed to Microsoft, she says they told her that other gamers found her sexual orientation "offensive." Teresa says: "I just recently saw a thing on your site about someone's gamer tag being banned because it had the word gay in the tag. I had a similar incident, only my account was suspended because I had said in my profile that I was a lesbian. I was harassed by several players, 'chased' to different maps/games to get away from their harassment. They followed me into the games and told all the other players to turn me in because they didn't want to see that crap or their kids to see that crap. As if xbox live is really appropriate for kids anyways! My account was suspended and xbox live did nothing to solve this, but instead said others found it offensive.

You can't use as a justification for discrimination that "some people find it offensive" - some people find the existence of non-white people offensive, but we do not kowtow to such bigotry in nations purporting to uphold principles of equality and freedom. If anyone else has been discriminated against by Microsoft for gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, religious or non-religious beliefs, please let me know.

Comments

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I heard that Microsoft was the exact opposite, going out of its way to welcome and accommodate gay employees. I strongly suspect that anyone identifying their sexual identity in their gamertag has/will face a similar response. That, of course, includes heterosexuals.

Here's an article on Microsoft's practices:
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/ea-microsoft-and-gamestop-awarded-top-marks-from-gay-rights-group

Well this situation is akin to a Gentlemen's Club. When you are offering a service and making it exclusive, you have rights as to who to let in and how those you let in are to go about their business "on your premises".

Microsoft apparently are doing their bit in hiring/recruiting in an equality-friendly way (actively including gay/lesbian and other demographics).

As for their Live service, they lay some very strict rules. The idea being (it seems) to make sure parents feel secure in letting the little kids onto the service.

Unfortunately making rules about what you write in your profile has no bearing on all the voice traffic that, a lot of people say, can be highly offensive to many different demographics.

Microsoft itself has pledged to look into this specific issue, but it seems unlikely they will make their rules less stringent. Perhaps the lesson to learn from this (and similar incidents) is that their banning system needs an overhaul. Just banning people because someone says they are offended by that person is not enough. Also, communication with the users involved would go a long way to make people like Teresa feel less singled out, and maybe help people like her report the problems she had before she was banned.

Anyway - it is hard to know the ins and outs of specific issues - mainly it seems like the ban system is semi-automatic, which needs changing.

As for the sensitivity to personal information - all online content providers have issues here, and none of them are perfect. Both Sony and Microsoft have recently been shown to have problems in this area - it is part of the problems of offering such open services.

Tysen: I appreciate your point here, but heterosexuals don't usually identity as such, in the same way that white people in the West often don't identity as such. It's the minorities that need the support - banning someone is an extreme act to take, and it requires serious justification, especially if it was not preceded by a caution in terms of violation of terms of service.

Neil: It's doesn't strike me as at all like a Gentleman's Club, unless you mean in terms the high proportion of male members. >:) A Gentleman's Club is courting an exclusive clientèle of no more than a few hundred people - Microsoft are running a public subscription service intended to support hundreds of thousands of people.

Can you imagine Facebook banning people for expressing a sexuality?

If Microsoft want to keep part of its service "family friendly" (not that I believe that being a lesbian is not family friendly, but...) they have their community sorting function in place when people sign up to Live. A blanket ban on a specific culture or identity across all community groups strikes me as very shaky legal ground.

I'd like to see some more evidence of what's going on here, though, as at the moment we only have fragmentary information.

"It is true that as a matter of policy, the expression of relationship preference in Gamertag profiles and tags is not allowed across the board, whether that's heterosexual or other," Stephen Toulouse, program manager for policy and enforcement on Xbox Live, told MTV News in a phone interview. "But as we saw when we ran into an issue with this [last year,] we started looking into that policy."

He acknowledged that the current policy could use improving: "It's inelegant. And it's inelegant because the text-box field is freeform."

From here: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1605966/20090226/story.jhtml

Thanks Josh! I appreciate the info.

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