In the wake of the controversy surrounding a self-identified lesbian being suspended from Xbox Live, Microsoft has admitted that its policies – aimed at preventing defamation – are an “inelegant solution,” and may be considering alternatives.
When a lesbian gamer named Teresa was suspended from Xbox Live for identifying herself as such in her gamer profile, the story quickly spread across the Internet. It sparked outrage against a long-standing Microsoft policy that forbade gamers from including words like “gay” or “lesbian” in their Gamertags and profiles – even catching people like Richard Gaywood, who just wanted to be able to use his real name.
The company’s policy was to disallow any statement of relationship preference in their profile or Gamertags, heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise. However, as Stephen Toulouse, program manager for policy and enforcement on Xbox Live, told Totilo, after seeing issues arise like in the cases of Teresa and Mr. Gaywood, the company was “looking into that policy.”
While some gamers have suggested that Microsoft simply just allow people to use the word “gay” in their profiles, the problem isn’t quite so simple, says Mr. Toulouse. After issues first arose regarding complaints about the use of “gay” in profiles and user names, Toulouse’s team combed through the profiles in question and found that in 95% to 98% of the cases, people who used the word were using it in a derogatory sense.
The stated intention of policies like Microsoft’s – or Sony’s similar fiasco, where typing “gay” or “lesbian” in the company’s Home service would be censored to “***” and “*******” – is to prevent defamation and abusive language. However, through the cases of Teresa and Richard Gaywood, Toulouse and his team have come to understand that they need to provide a way for gamers to display their chosen sexuality without the potential for abuse:
“As social media has become more and more of a thing in the past six years, people are wanting to express more and more detail about themselves,” Toulouse said.
Totilo had his own suggestion – why not give a checkbox that gamers could fill out if they so chose? – that Toulouse was very receptive to. “I think that’s a great idea,” he responded. “That’s the type of thing we’re looking at as a solution … we want to provide the capability for our users to express relationship preference or gender without a way for it to be misused.”