Xbox chief Phil Spencer outlines plans for fighting toxicity in gaming

Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer says he’s acutely aware of the problems the gaming industry faces from a cultural perspective — issues like toxicity, abuse and harassment, and exclusionary attitudes that can keep gaming’s benefits from spreading beyond its most hardcore, traditional demographic.

So today, Spencer says Microsoft is launching an industry-wide initiative to combat these issues by sharing solutions and technology and committing itself to aggressive enforcement.

“First, gaming is for everyone. No one group ‘owns’ gaming. Instead, whether you’re new to gaming or are a diehard e-sports fan, you are welcome to play and welcome to all the fun and skill-building that comes with gaming. In this way, when everyone can play, the entire world wins,” Spencer writes in a blog post titled “Video Games: A Unifying Force for the World.”

“Gaming is for everyone. No one group ‘owns’ gaming.”

Spencer says he believes in what he calls two fundamental truths for gaming: that the medium is for everyone no matter your age, gender, nationality, orientation, or skin color. The other is that, for gaming’s benefits to be accessible to all people in the world, companies like Microsoft and others need to foster a safe gaming culture and online environment, both through policies and tools and through positive changes to the community and industry itself.

“Gaming must be a safe environment. Creating community is shared work, and protecting community is essential work, so, we all carry part of the payload of community safety – game industry and gamers alike,” he writes. “Gaming is the gateway to these 21st century skills and to STEM. Just consider: teen girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree. Among teenagers who play games online with others daily, 74 percent have made friends online and 37 percent have made more than five friends online.”

Spencer says Microsoft will now commit itself to a series of new initiatives aimed at making gaming more accessible, less toxic, and safer. The first of those it announced earlier this month when Microsoft publicly updated its Community Standards, guiding what’s acceptable behavior on Xbox Live and how it enforces suspensions and bans. Going further, Microsoft says it will be expanding its safety team in the coming months to include more diverse voices and a wider-ranging set of solutions to common issues.

“Our Xbox Safety team is nicknamed the ‘Defenders of Joy’ because we will defend you in every humanly and technologically possible way, so gaming remains fun,” Spencer says. “We will identify potentials for abuse and misuse on our platform and will fix problems quickly. We are also intent on expanding the composition of our safety team so wide-ranging perspectives can help us identify future safety problems and solutions.”

Microsoft will share technology with others in the industry to combat toxicity

Additionally, Spencer says Microsoft will be giving community managers on Xbox Live new moderation tools that help it better regulate behavior within the platform’s Club system. The company will also streamline the process of creating a child or teen account and says it will be giving resources to its 150,000-person Xbox Ambassadors program to help create an inviting and safe environment for all gamers.”

Part of that will involve hosting family workshops at Microsoft Stores and providing information through its new “For Everyone” hub on, which is dedicated to educating players and parents on inclusivity, accessibility, and safety.

Most importantly, however, is Spencer’s plan to share this knowledge, in the same way Microsoft shares knowledge to combat the worst forms of online abuse and online criminal activity.

“Because we intend to protect all gamers, we will openly share safety innovations with our industry the same way Microsoft has made PhotoDNA technology universally available to everyone from the police to the tech industry to fight the spread of child pornography,” Spencer says. “Today, multiple teams working in areas like moderation, user research, data science, and others are already aligning with industry partners to share insights, and best practices in areas of safety, security and privacy.”

Closing out his remarks, Spencer specifically calls out the promise of cloud gaming, and names services like Microsoft’s xCloud and Google Stadia, as bringing both new, exciting possibilities for expanding gaming to new audiences alongside new risks. “Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety,” Spencer concludes. “We invite everyone who plays games, and industry partners, to join us in following the principles to help unify the world and do our part: make gaming accessible for everyone and protect gamers, one and all.”

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Why this looks like the beginning of a pandemic The developments outside of China, along with the latest science on Covid-19, suggest we may soon see a rapid rise in infections — in China and around the world. 1) The virus is very contagious and some people seem to be able to infect others before they know they’re sick: Researchers currently believe one infected person generally infects two to more than three others, which would make the new coronavirus more contagious than other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS. “For a virus pretty closely related to SARS, it shows very effective person-to-person transmission, something nobody really expected,” Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, told Vox. Look at the cruise ship in Japan, the thousands of healthcare workers in China who are infected, and the situation in China’s prisons for more evidence of Covid-19’s potential for rapid spread. At the same time, the latest science suggests some people can transmit the virus very early on in their illness or even before they are showing symptoms — which is again different from SARS and MERS, and suggests contagion more like the flu virus than SARS. SARS was eventually contained because, when people began to show symptoms, they were isolated — at a time when they only just becoming contagious — and their contacts could be traced and isolated too, explained Minnesota’s Osterholm. But, “Trying to stop influenza-like transmission is like trying to stop the wind. It’s virtually impossible,” he told Vox. For these reasons, Osterholm said the fact that extraordinary measures to contain this virus haven’t worked doesn’t mean containment failed. “Containment never had a chance because of the influenza-virus like transmission.” 2) Countries are still mostly looking for the disease in people who’ve traveled from China: The main method of screening in many countries is still testing passengers coming from China, or from Hubei province only. But as we’ve seen, spread is happening beyond those people. And other cases may be undetected. “What happened in the UK, where a cluster of infections was started by someone who was infected outside of China, could happen in the US,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Vox. “I’m not confident we’d catch it before it spread on, since we’re using severity of symptoms and history of travel to China as criteria for testing people for this virus.” “There’s a high probability that we’ll see community spread in the US,” she added. Though the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that the risk of spread in the US is low, it’s beginning to change its screening strategy to look for people with the virus who aren’t returning travelers from China. The CDC will use the national flu surveillance tracking infrastructure to test patients who have flu symptoms for Covid-19 in five cities across the US. 3) With flu season ongoing, it can take time to identify cases and outbreaks: “The challenge with this illness is that the clinical symptoms resemble other viral illnesses, like flu,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Vox. So people with the flu, and doctors examining them, may not even be thinking of Covid-19 yet, especially in people who haven’t traveled to China. 4) China may also see another surge in cases soon as travel restrictions are gradually lifted: The country has taken extraordinarily draconian measures to stop this virus — quarantining millions, and shutting down transit and travel. But the business community is growing increasingly frustrated with the restrictions, and is pressuring government officials to lift some of them. “[It’s] the most intense human social distancing effort in modern public health,” Osterholm said. “What happens when all these people start to go back to work, and public transport is back, and crowding occurs? This is at best a temporary respite in the numbers in China.” 5) Many countries are only now getting testing up and running: Until last week, only two countries in Africa — Senegal and South Africa — had the lab capacity to screen for this virus. While other countries are now scaling up, this outbreak has been going on since late last year, and it’s possible cases have gone uncounted. So far, only one case has been detected in Africa — in Egypt — yet Africa is thought to be at particular risk given its economic ties to China, with more than a million Chinese workers. “If the disease spreads to fragile states it would be even harder to contain. Many states are undergoing political violence or are poorly governed, such as Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, and Afghanistan,” said Gostin. “Others have weak health systems, for example in sub-Saharan Africa.” 6) Some people may have abdominal pain before respiratory symptoms — and that’s not something health officials are screening for: This coronavirus is still very new, and we don’t know the entire spectrum of illness yet, but we’re learning the disease may sometimes surface in surprising ways. Though it’s a respiratory infection,a recent JAMA article found some have abdominal symptoms such as discomfort first. This means “we may not be detecting cases that do not present in the classic way with fever and respiratory symptoms,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University. Putting all this aside, models have repeatedly suggested there are thousands more cases than have been detected. (One of the latest, from Imperial College London, estimated that about “two thirds of COVID-19 cases exported from mainland China have remained undetected worldwide, potentially resulting in multiple chains of as yet undetected human-to-human transmission outside mainland China.”) We need to prepare for a pandemic Keep in mind: A disease can spread widely, and become a pandemic, without being particularly severe. And no one knows yet what the death rate of a Covid-19 pandemic would be — mostly because we don’t yet know precisely how lethal this disease is. On February 16, China’s CDC published a report of the first 72,314 patients with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 in mainland China. It’s the largest such analysis to date. And it found an overall case fatality rate of 2.3 — suggesting Covid-19 is less deadly than SARS, which killed around 10 percent of those infected. The death toll was also much higher among the elderly. As more and more mild or asymptomatic cases are found, the death rate is likely to drop. Still, Osterholm warned, even a 1 or 2 percent case fatality rate could equate to a lot of deaths if Covid-19 continues to spread around the world. “A two percent case fatality rate is 20 times higher than a bad flu year,” he said. (Seasonal flu has about a 0.1 percent case fatality rate.) “So now, you can infect many more people than the flu and add a case fatality that is as much as 20 times higher.” What’s more, a less severe pandemic still has the potential to overwhelm a country’s health system. The current data out of China suggest as many asfive to ten percent of patients need care in the ICU, Osterholm said. Many countries may not have enough beds or equipment to care for them, not to mention it could cost billions. “We don’t have enough data to know what the burden will be in the US,” Inglesby added, “but there does seem to be enough information that hospitals and public health agencies should be planning for a potential rise in very sick people that will need critical care in the months ahead.” Public health experts said countries need to move from trying to contain the virus to mitigating its harm — reducing the spread, and caring for the very sick. “It is beyond time,” said Nuzzo. This means hospitals need to be ready with Covid-19 protocols, healthcare workers need to be protected with access to protective equipment such as face masks, and countries need plans for maintaining supply chains and carrying on with travel and trade. Recent outbreaks in Germany, France and the UK suggest high-income countries with strong public health systems may be able to control the virus’ spread, at least for now. (In these places, after Covid-19 cases were detected, the counts didn’t rise appreciably.) But as the virus moves around the world, and the case toll mounts in more and more countries, sometimes silently, even high-income countries will struggle, Osterholm said. “I think we have to expect there are going to be many locations around the world that will experience what China is experiencing.”
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Sanders won 27 percent of the black vote and 51 percent of Latinx voters, while Buttigieg won just 2 percent of black voters and 10 percent of Latinx voters, according to the Washington Post. As Vox’s Li Zhou has pointed out, Buttigieg’s lack of support from voters of color could prove an ongoing problem as the contest moves into more diverse states, such as next week’s South Carolina primary. Nationally, black voters make up 20 percent of Democratic voters. But in an election in which so many Democrats are fixated on exactly one agenda item — removing Trump from the White House — Buttigieg also hammered home the message that, because Sanders is not a unity figure, having the senator as the party’s nominee would weaken the party as a whole. Specifically, the former mayor argued that as a nominee Sanders would weaken the candidacies of down-ballot Democrats and threaten the party’s House of Representatives majority, using terms that painted Sanders as selfish and uninterested in supporting the Democratic Party. ”I believe the only way to truly deliver any of the progressive changes we care about is to be a nominee who actually gives a damn about the effect you are having, from the top of the ticket, on those crucial, front-line House and Senate Democrats running to win, who we need to win, to make sure our agenda is more than just words on a page,” Buttigieg said. Buttigieg went on to accuse Sanders of “ignoring, dismissing, or even attacking the very Democrats we absolutely must send to Capitol Hill in order to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker, in order to support judges who respect privacy and democracy, and in order to send Mitch McConnell into retirement.” It is true that Sanders — while certainly not lacking support among progressives in Congress — does not have the support of many of the more prominent moderate members who helped bring the House back under Democratic control in 2018. Many of those members, like Reps. Conor Lamb and Abby Finkenauer, have endorsed Biden; others, like Mikie Sherrilland Lucy McBath, have endorsed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But it is also true that Sanders won Nevada with a diverse base of support and may be open to moderating his message, as his campaign surrogate Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has signaled recently with statements about seeking a compromise on Medicare-for-all. And should Sanders be able to build coalitions similar to his in Nevada in the states to come, it would undermine Buttigieg’s argument that he cannot form a broad coalition. Until that time, however, Buttigieg will likely continue to give voice to, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias put it, an “alarm, clearly visible in a range of mainstream Democratic circles over the past several weeks, [that is] now going to kick into overdrive.”
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