Usernames that include racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ+, ableist and white supremacist terms are not moderated in some of the most popular online games, according to a report published on Monday by the Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL Center for Technology and Society report said that usernames were one of the easiest pieces of content to moderate, as they are examined by the registration system when an account is created. The failure of companies to moderate hate messages in one of the first and most identifiable places indicates that game companies have not done enough to address hate and extremism on their platforms, according to the report.
In multiplayer games, usernames are clearly displayed to other players and offensive names have been a tool to create a hateful and hostile gaming environment, the ADL said.
“Online gaming is one of the most important and powerful digital social spaces for building connections and finding community,” said Daniel Kelley, director of strategy and operations for the ADL Center for Technology and Society. “Unfortunately, what game companies say they are doing to combat hate in these spaces and what we are finding in our research contradict each other.”
The report adds to a growing body of research showing that online gaming has been used to spread extremist ideas and images. ADL’s annual reports on extremism found an increase in hate and harassment in online games over the past four years. ADL 2022 survey collected responses from more than 2,000 Americans and found that the majority of adults and teens experienced hate and bullying while playing online games.
In December, lawmakers led by Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., asked the companies behind the best games to explain their efforts to address in-game hate, harassment and extremism in their online games. in its answersonly two of the 14 gaming companies highlighted their mechanism for checking names linked to extremist ideologies or inappropriate behavior.
Usernames also tend to be the most obvious indication of extremism on an online platform. TO study published by the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior in 2022 analyzed usernames on Reddit and found that those with offensive or sexually explicit usernames were more likely to harass other users and produce harmful content.
ADL researchers examined five online multiplayer games: League of Legends, PUBG: Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Overwatch 2, and Call of Duty, all of which ranked among the top 25 games on tracker network, a website that monitors the number of players in popular games. The games, which were released between 2009 and 2022, have tens of hundreds of millions of players, according to the Tracker Network.
Moderating hateful and extremist language in online games is challenging because the context of words changes frequently, new offensive terms can be introduced, and extremists often use code words. The report says that companies should consult with experts and keep track of new words to address this problem.
Online multiplayer games have struggled in the past to moderate audio-based hate speech and harassment between users, who may communicate via headset and microphone while playing a game together.
“Gaming companies must do more to address the spread of hateful and extremist ideologies on their online gaming platforms. At the same time, we need more transparency about how they are working to address these issues,” said ADL’s Kelley.
Every game has a code of conduct or rules that prohibit offensive language or hate speech. Some games have specific policies on usernames, though the report questions how effective these policies are given the inconsistent moderation of usernames.
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard, which developed Call of Duty: Warzone, and is the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment and publisher of Overwatch 2, said in an email to NBC News: “We are constantly working to improve our moderation policies and tools to make our games safer and more inclusive for players. Our games are enjoyed by millions of gamers around the world, and most of them do not engage in hateful or offensive activities.”
Fortnite developer Epic Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Krafton, the publisher of PUBG: Battlegrounds.
Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, did not respond to a request for comment.
In two games, the researchers said they tested registering several offensive usernames from each of five categories: anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, anti-LGBTQ+, ableism, and white supremacism.
The findings showed an inconsistent moderation of offensive terms based on each game’s policy. The researchers got mixed responses from each game’s registration system. For example, in Call of Duty: Warzone, one anti-LGBTQ+ username was allowed while another anti-LGBTQ+ username was disallowed.
Overwatch 2 had the least offensive usernames, according to the report. Some possible reasons the report cited were that Overwatch 2 was the newest of the five games, and his company Blizzard Entertainment has invested in online safety initiatives.