Phil Spencer on dealing with harassment and bad actors: 'We’re not a free speech platform'

phil spencer on green background wearing hoodie with an x on it
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Xbox boss Phil Spencer recently spoke to the New York Times about the state of the industry and Microsoft's current strategy across various hot button issues. A topic that reared its ugly head was community and specifically harassment across gaming social networks: interviewer Kara Swisher drew a link between anonymity and the Gamergate saga, asking what lessons the big platform-holders had taken from it. 

"The point you bring up about the anonymity on the internet and what behavior that that unlocks for people who want to leverage those for—I’ll call them evil reasons, I think is a great learning," said Spencer. "[...] And what we find on our network is when people are misbehaving, we have a report function that’s built right into the social connections that people create on our platform. If we ban somebody’s account, we really have the ability to impact somebody’s gaming identity and what availability they have."

If you're thinking that doesn't quite answer the question, Spencer goes on to elaborate on the good and bad of gaming social networks ("all positives and negatives of the human condition"). But there is one firm line in the sand.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

"One of the things we’ve stated about our social network is we’re not a free speech platform. We’re a platform around interactive entertainment and video games. And we’re not there to allow all kinds of social discourse to happen on our platform. That’s not why we exist.

"We’re not there to allow any conversation to happen on our platform. I’m not to say it never happens. We’re not a place—it’s very difficult to come to Xbox Live and say, 'Okay, I want to go create a political party on the platform'. You could kind of twist the tools and try to get there, but it’s just not set up for general-purpose conversations or community. It’s really set up for community around interactive entertainment and the games that run on our platform. And that’s the way we invest. And I’m not judging what other networks do. It’s just not what our network is about."

Spencer talks about a wide range of topics in the interview, including Activision-Blizzard's ongoing reckoning with various allegations of abuse, harassment and sexism ("Xbox's history is not spotless"). You can read or listen to the full interview here.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."