6 bucks a month. After the promotional $1 offer the Xbox PC Game Pass costs $6 a month. Not a bad deal, especially during social distancing. Between the instant library and Microsoft’s new Xbox app, I feel like I have a new lease on life. Or rather, I did, until I noticed that their new app had no ‘upload gamerpic’ feature. It was a curiosity that would herald my uncomfortable glance through the looking glass of social moderation, and its evolution in the time of pandemic.
Curious as to the feature’s absence, I fired up my phone to perform the upload from the mobile app, only to be informed that the feature was still unavailable. After a little light digging, I came to learn that the image uploads had been disabled for the last month, that Microsoft was seeing record numbers in usage and that as a result, in order to ease the strain on their moderation teams, they switched off uploads for the time being. It’s a relatively benign change, and certainly not the end of anyone’s world, but since our move to the “new normal” big tech is serving as a bellwether when it comes to social moderation. Consider the following recent events:
- March 14, 2020 – In an effort to curb profiteering and panic buying, Kijiji bans the sale of masks, sanitizer, and toilet paper on their website.
- March 20, 2020 – Zoom publishes a robust blog post detailing best practices to prevent zoombombing, a phrase that hitherto didn’t exist.
- April 2, 2020 – Wizards of the Coast officially posts an article titled ‘STATEMENT ON SPACEGODZILLA‘, explaining that they will be removing or changing a card which, until then, had been officially named Spacegodzilla, Death Corona.
- May 12, 2020 – Instagram launches a feature allowing users to delete up to 25 comments at once, and pin other more desirable comments, in an effort to promote positivity.
- May 14, 2020 – Twitch introduces the Safety Advisory Council (SAC for short). Consisting of “online safety experts” and creators invested in the Twitch ecosystem, the group’s goal is to advise and consult on the growth and health of the platform, speaking to trends and issues as they emerge.
- May 29, 2020 – Twitter slaps a warning label on a tweet from Trump citing that it glorifies violence. Days prior, they flagged a tweet about mail-in ballots for misinformation. The week prior, Twitter rolled out a feature that allows you to control who can reply to your tweets.
I’ll admit that Magic the Gathering isn’t exactly tech, but as far as the culture goes I would have been remiss not to include it in such a round-up. With all the craziness and confusion accompanying COVID-19, the online powers that be (and Wizards of the Coast) have been working to thicken the spectrum of communication. And reactionary though it may seem many of the big tech players have been making earnest strides to help improve the quality of information dissemination long before coronavirus entered into our collective vernacular. For some time now, Facebook has used Page Transparency to inform users of things like page merges, name changes, and countries of origin. In YouTube’s case, they’ll sometimes flag videos and provide additional context. In the below example, you can see the effort to inform viewers that the channel RT America is part of a global multilingual media network based out of Russia.
Minneapolis burns as I begrudgingly pick out a gamerpic from Microsoft’s pre-approved catalog of images. But if nothing else, the events detailed above show that tech is trying to catch up. They’re trying to prevent dickheads from upselling you on Lysol wipes, they’re trying to cut back on unwanted negativity, they’re trying to recognize problems and deploy solutions and they’re trying to offer a distinction of information. As I try to decide between Master Chief and Enderman, I ask myself if social moderation, or rather curation, is just the first step down a slippery slope toward censorship. I chose Enderman and booted up Hollow Knight, I hear it’s quite the game.
Image Source: Spacegodzilla by Zezhou Chen