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Riot, Twitch, and the Evolution of Censorship

FBI OPEN UP!

In a blog post published on April 30, Riot Games (League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics) is amending and clarifying their existing privacy protocols to allow for the collection and evaluation of audio in Valorant (and possibly its other titles later on down the line). Reminiscent of the conversation that swirled around Riot’s “ring 0 anti-cheat” last year, this most recent update has struck a similar, disconcerting tone with regard to not just privacy, but also censorship.

Even though the blog post suggests that such recordings will take place “when a report for disruptive behavior is submitted”, surveillance culture has quickly become old hat for Gaming and Tech industry writ large. Many will recall the precipitous uproar that followed Sony’s poorly phrased note that “voice chats in parties may be recorded”. Unlike the potential curatorial power of social moderation, however, it would seem that changes as of late have moved away from the realm of ‘misinformation mitigation’ and into the realm of oblique censorship.

In the case of Twitch, for example, as the platform outlaws words like simp and obese, the ‘Just Chatting’ category appears to have taken on a looser, more softcore feel as of late. It’s an atmosphere that hasn’t gone unnoticed, leaving some to question the intentionality behind the moves. While audio collection and vocabulary censorship is frequently explained by platforms as a preventative methodology poised to combat racism and hateful communication, the agreeability of the pretense of surveillance is often what makes the slope a slippery one.

At the risk of editorializing, it’s a difficult concept to reconcile. On the one hand we have information systems and measures being massaged into place by platforms to diminish, mitigate, and pacify spaces that afford people the relatively anonymous opportunity to maliciously harass others–moving from proactive player-controlled measures (mute-all options, profanity filters) to reactionary systems (Riot is exploring machine-learning regarding their soon-to-be detection process). On the other hand, governments and corporations have utilized technology enabled surveillance to great effect, leveraging enormous amounts of data to amass equally impressive amounts of cash. In a post-PRISM world, the notion of mass surveillance and it’s ambiguous, far-reaching implications are more than just the musings of those wearing tin-foil hats.

With regard to ring 0, to say nothing of the rhetorical battle when it comes to enhanced anti-cheat permissions, my extensive time spent playing Valorant this past year has proven to be relatively cheat-free (as far as I can tell). Once again, Riot has seemingly eschewed a clandestine operation in favour of a relatively transparent one–getting out in front of the conversation and publicly laying out their intentions when it comes to more rigorous controls. And while it would be irresponsible to blindly compare the gravity of Snowden’s whistleblowing with Riot’s intended action to curb liberal use of “the gamer word” and other “disruptive behaviour”, censorship and moderation appear to be contextually evolving within our shared digital spaces.

Image Source: Author Edit via Metal Gear Solid

Riot, Twitch, and the Evolution of Censorship

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