Extremism finds fertile ground in gamer chat rooms

There are rules people must agree to before joining Unloved, a private discussion group on Discord, the messaging service popular among video game players. One rule: “Don’t disrespect women.”

For those on the inside, Unloved serves as a forum where about 150 people embrace a misogynistic subculture where members call themselves “incels,” a term describing those who identify as involuntary celibates. They share some harmless memes but also joke about school shootings and discuss the attractiveness of interracial women. Users in a group — known as a server on Discord — can enter smaller rooms for voice or text chats. The name of one of the rooms refers to rape.

In the vast and growing world of gaming, it’s becoming easy to see views like this, both within some of the games themselves and on other social media services and sites, like Discord and Steam, that many gamers use.

The leak of a trove of classified Pentagon documents on Discord by an Air National Guard member who held extremist views has sparked renewed interest in the fringes of the $184 billion gaming industry and how discussions in its online communities can express themselves in the physical world.

A report, released Thursday by NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, underscores how misogyny, racism and other extremist ideologies have become deeply rooted in some video game chat rooms, and offers insight into why people play video games or socialize online. to be particularly vulnerable to these views.

The study argued that people who spread hate speech or extremist opinions have far-reaching influence, even though they are far from the majority of users and only occupy pockets of some of these services. These users have built virtual communities to spread their bad opinions and recruit impressionable youth online with hateful and sometimes violent content – with relatively little public pressure that social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have faced.

The center’s researchers conducted a survey in five of the world’s major gaming markets – the United States, Britain, South Korea, France and Germany – and found that 51 percent of those who played online reported encountering extremist statements in multiplayer games over the past year.

“They may be a small number of actors, but they are very influential and can have huge impacts on player culture and people’s experiences of real-world events,” said Mariana Olizola Rosenblatt, author of the report.

Historically, the world of video games has been dominated by men, and it has long grappled with problematic behavior, such as GamerGate, a long-running harassment campaign against women in the industry in 2014 and 2015. In recent years, video game companies have promised to improve workplace cultures. and recruitment processes.

The report said that gaming platforms and neighboring social media sites are particularly vulnerable to sensitizing extremist groups due to the many impressionable youths who play the games, as well as the relative lack of moderation on some sites.

Some of these bad actors talk directly to other people in multiplayer games, such as Call of Duty, Minecraft, and Roblox, using in-game chat or voice functions. Other times, they turn to social media platforms, such as Discord, which first rose to prominence among gamers and has since gained wider appeal.

Among those surveyed for the report, between 15 and 20 percent of those under the age of 18 said they had seen statements supporting the idea that “the white race is superior to other races,” and that “a particular race or ethnicity should be expelled or eliminated,” or That “women are inferior.”

In Roblox, which allows players to create virtual worlds, players re-enact massive Nazi concentration camps and re-education camps built by the Chinese Communist government in Xinjiang, a predominantly Muslim region, according to the report.

In World of Warcraft, online groups – called guilds – have advertised neo-Nazi affiliations. On Steam, an online game store that also has discussion forums, one user has called himself the chief architect of the Holocaust; Another anti-Semitic language embedded in their account name. The report revealed similar usernames associated with players in Call of Duty.

Disboard, a volunteer-run site that displays a list of Discord servers, includes some sites that openly advertise extremist views. Some are public, while others are private and invite-only.

One, called Dissident Lounge 2, describes itself as Christian, nationalist and “stand-up”, which is slang for not caring what other people think. Her profile picture is Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character who has been taken over by white supremacists.

“Our race is being replaced and ignored by the media, and our schools and the media are turning people into degenerates,” says the group’s call for others to join.

“Some of the tools used to connect, foster community, foster creativity, and foster interaction can also be used to radicalize, to manipulate, and to spout the same kind of awful language, theories, and tactics,” said Jeff Hynes, a gaming expert who until recently worked for Common Sense Media, which monitors online entertainment for families. to other people.”

The gaming companies say they have cracked down on hateful content, placing bans on extremist material and recording or saving audio from in-game conversations for use in potential investigations. Some, like Discord, Twitch, Roblox, and Activision Blizzard — the maker of Call of Duty — have put in place automatic detection systems to scan for and delete banned content before it’s posted. In recent years, Activision has banned 500,000 Call of Duty accounts for violating its Code of Conduct.

In a statement, Discord said it was “a place where everyone can find belonging, and any behavior contrary to that is against our mission.” The company said it banned users and shut down servers if they showed hate or violent extremism.

“We recognize that extremist groups resort to a variety of tactics in an attempt to circumvent the rules on all platforms, and we are determined to stay one step ahead of them,” Will Nevius, a Roblox spokesperson, said in a statement.

Valve, the company that operates Steam, did not respond to a request for comment.

Experts like Mr. Hines say the fast-paced, real-time nature of games creates enormous challenges for policing illegal or inappropriate behavior. The evil actors were also adept at avoiding technological obstacles as quickly as they could be erected.

Anyway, with three billion people playing it all over the world, the task of observing what is happening at any given moment is a near impossible task.

“In the coming years, there will be more people playing games than people available to supervise gaming sessions,” Mr. Heinz said. “So in many ways, this is literally trying to stick your fingers through a dam that’s riddled with holes like an enormous amount of Swiss cheese.”

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