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👎 Violent = Viral
Texas content moderation law broken by Twitch’s removal of Buffalo live stream | Activision-Blizzard release a backward ‘diversity tool’
Hello best online friends — you may have noticed I’ve moved to Substack. I outlined the reasons in this tweet thread but the TLDR is that Ghost is expensive and featureless, and Substack is free and actually has an audience.
If you unsubscribed since last week’s newsletter and you are seeing this, sorry — you got caught in the migration of my subscriber list (Ghost doesn’t notify me when I lose subscribers…). If you unsubscribe now you’ll never hear from me again!
This week was seriously something I could have done without 👎 which is really annoying because it was also my birthday. Fuck you, tech news. The reasons for this rating:
There was a live streamed mass shooting last weekend, and the video is still doing the rounds
A stupid law in Texas says that taking this video down is WRONG
Some white guys in a gaming studio tried to ‘do diversity’.
🤪 10/10 for ‘culture’
Right, it’s time to talk about Activision Blizzard because this newsletter has ignored them for way too long. Some background info for you:
Activision-Blizzard used to be two separate gaming studios, and now they are one mega studio
They got bought by Microsoft in January, so now I guess they’re Microsoft-Activision-Blizzard
Oh also, Activision-Blizzard own King, the game studio behind Candy Crush, so actually I guess they’re Microsoft-Activision-Blizzard-King-Yahoo Finance-Pizza Express (just guessing who they might merge with next)
Let’s shorten their company name to AB for the rest of this segment though, otherwise things will just get silly
Anyway, now that you have that every important and totally relevant context, you might be interested to learn about AB’s new diversity tool. Further background: AB have had huge diversity problems which have resulted in scandals and lawsuits (this gamer website even called their CEO ‘a piece of shit’). So, their 80% white male workforce decided to do something about it: they shouted about their internal diversity tool.
From a PR perspective, that was their first mistake. But from a normal, non-dumbass perspective, their first mistake was failing to replace the idiot white men in their staff with real people. But anyway, let’s move on.
👩🏫 What this tool is for: AB perhaps want to use this tool (still in beta) to design ‘diverse’ characters for their games. E.g. Overwatch 2, is a game where people of all different ethnic backgrounds and gender identities work together to kill each other — it’s inspired. The tool measures the ‘diversity’ of characters with the following completely inane metrics (out of 10):
Age (what ages rate high??)
Body Type (again... what rates high? Fat? Less than four limbs?)
Gender Identity (everyone has one of these, but which ones are ‘good’?)
Sexual Orientation (how many points does ‘gay-ass little twink’ get?)
Right so let me guess: a cishet white man of average height with no cultural interests beyond watching football would get a 0 on all of these. That means, if you had a team of six characters who were all brown, queer, and fat they would all get very high scores... even though they are all the same? Is that what diversity is?
Protip: any ‘diversity tool’ that assumes the neutral ‘starting point’ of all humans is a cishet white man, is not a diversity tool... it’s a piece of digital garbage. Let’s all try and remember that.
🪞 Some reflections on the Buffalo live stream...
Last weekend, a white supremacist entered a supermarket in Buffalo and shot and killed ten people. This is bad enough on it’s own, but do you know what else they did? They streamed it live on Twitch, and now nearly a week later content platforms are still having trouble containing the video.
Funny how the loudest content moderation expert out there — Elon Musk — hasn’t said a single word about this yet? I suppose we’ll just have to do without his insight for now.
👉 First of all, let’s just think about how you might even moderate a live stream. When someone goes live, it’s entirely possible that the audience (if any), will have no idea what the stream will contain. Certain events have to play out before it becomes clear whether or not the stream should be stopped. Then, it’s up to the audience themselves to do the reporting if they feel it necessary, leaving the rest up to the platform and their response times.
👉 Second of all, let’s look at what history has shown us: response time is absolutely key. In 2019 the New Zealand Christchurch shooting live stream was allowed to run on Facebook for it’s entire 17 minutes. This means, the whole video was available to be shared (which we all know that it was, a lot). Less than 200 people watched it live, and none of those people reported it while it was happening.
Twitch say that they took down the Buffalo live stream in less than two minutes (if this is true this is an unprecedented response time) and the live audience only contained 22 people. Even with a response time that fast, and an initial audience as small as that, the video still went massively viral.
Conclusion: the challenges of content moderation are too complex for my tiny brain. All I can say is that we’re clearly doing it wrong. You cannot stop a live stream of a mass shooting before any violence occurs, because no one — no matter how many advanced predictive models they have — can actually predict the future, or even how information will flow across the web. The internet’s hugest draw and drawback is that it promises you everything. How many websites have you been to that have a search bar which prompts you to ‘search for anything’? And when you get bored of searching for real things, you can just make stuff up! It’s just a lot.
☝️ One last thing: if you’re worried about the state of content moderation, just get a load of Texas’s new content moderation law — one that I hope no one else copies (that’s how laws work right?). It makes very little sense in almost all directions, but essentially it says that you cannot censor anyone based on their viewpoint, including shared viewpoints of those consuming the content. So... it was the white supremacist’s ‘viewpoint’ that those ten people should be shot, and therefore, Twitch are technically in violation of this law.
Sorry to leave you on such a sour note but it’s the weekend and it’s time for me to stop typing and perhaps go outside or something, idk.