Fighting Abusive Behavior Online – A HOW-TO

A script to help fight offensive and abusive behavior online by Shawn Kerr, Resident Anthropologist

Our lives are filled with scripted behaviors and interactions. We all perform scripts on a daily basis whether we’re aware of it or not. The way we address our bosses as opposed to our friends is a script we use on a weekly basis. Waiters and waitresses have a set script they use everyday when they tell us about the specials. Sales reps have an extremely specific script that they use which is proven to generate the greatest number of sales.

We script our lives out in this way because we want to make generally chaotic and risky interactions somewhat predictable. We want to achieve a desired outcome from a social interaction. By having scripts ready for situations, such as job interviews and work presentations, we can make the odds in any given situation favor us.

For gamers who are dedicated to creating safe spaces online it’s important to have a script that deals with abusive players online. When people are being offensive or abusive with their language during online game play we should have a set of responses and actions ready. This way we can at least attempt to achieve a somewhat desired outcome.

Some people already have a script that they follow. They figure out who the offender is and mute them. This removes the muter from the offensive behavior and makes the space safer for them. However, this doesn’t create a safer space for others.

As a gamer who has taken a staunch and unwavering stance against offensive and abusive behavior online I recognize that I have to do more than just mute people who are being offensive. Gamers who are offensive and abusive online should be stopped – something that Microsoft has made a strong commitment to as well. So it should be our job to not only make the space safe for ourselves, but for others as well.

To do this we have to change our typical script of merely muting offensive and abusive online gamers. We have to actively attempt to stop them and hold them accountable for their actions. There are just a few things that we can do to work towards this goal.

Situation Assessment

Before beginning any script we have to recognize the conditions that are necessary to enable a script. That is, recognize when we would want to and when we don’t want to use the script outlined below. Before any match begins, while still in the lobby, recognize the chances of someone being highly offensive. It’s risk assessment.

There are a couple of factors that I look at before every match begins. I look at the number of people on microphones – the greater the number of people on microphones the greater the chance of someone being verbally abusive. I also look at usernames/Gamertags/PSN IDs/etc. If I find something offensive I report it. If I find something that’s borderline I make a mental note before game play begins.

This prepares me for offensive and abusive language during online play as well as sets me up for later use of my script. Just because we aren’t surprised by offensive and abusive language online doesn’t mean we are prepared for it.

Step 1: Be Vocal in Opposition

Being vocal simply means asking the person to stop using the language they are using: “Could you please not use that word?” or “I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak that way.” Being vocal shows the offender that there is at least one person who disagrees with the language being used.

The more people who start becoming vocal online about abusive language the more prominent we become in the community. In being vocal it’s also important we don’t attempt to abuse the abuser. That is probably hardest for me – jumping down the abusers throat and viscerally shredding them is something that I would greatly enjoy. However, it’s important not to do so because it doesn’t positively work towards a better outcome.

In this case the ends don’t justify the means. The point is to create a safer space, and any sort of slur-laden, abusive language – even when aimed at an abuser – isn’t going to help in achieving this goal.

If the abuser apologizes and stops using offensive or abusive language then this is where you stop – Mission Accomplished! However, more than likely this isn’t the end.

Step 2: Stay Calm

Staying calm is important. After being vocal you will more than likely come under fire for voicing your opposition. Those who use offensive language are surprisingly defensive about their choice and right to use offensive language in online gaming (even if it does violate the terms & conditions they agreed to). When coming under assault it’s important not to shut down or to become defensive yourself, but stay calm and just stick to your script. Don’t argue or defend yourself – if the person continues their verbal barrage just stop talking.

Another reason to stay calm is that you are representing all people who are opposed to verbal abuse online. As online gaming currently exists it is not terribly common to hear people actually voice opposition to harassing behavior online. As such, when you are vocal in your opposition to such behavior you are a representation of all people who share this same mindset whether you want to be or not.

When you act vocally in opposition to abusive behavior people are going to make judgments about all people who are staunchly against said behavior. As such it’s important to represent ourselves as positive and non-offensive so that people will not judge all of us as though we were just as bad as those who we are asking to stop using abusive language.

Step 3: Report

As mentioned above, invariably people are going to continue their abusive and harassing behavior. At this point it’s important to report them and let the system do its work. Figure out who is using the offensive language and report them/file a complaint about the offensive or abusive language that they use online.

Step 4: Engage Others

Lastly, after you have reported someone you can encourage others to report the offender to the system. If you can get enough support behind you there is a possibility of getting a temporary ban rather quickly. Engaging others can be difficult, but in doing so you make your opposition even more vocal. As well you may motivate someone who previously wouldn’t have reported abusive behavior to report it.

A Few Considerations About the Script

I would like to note that offensive behavior is relative. What one person views as offensive another may not. In this fact we must understand that not everyone is going to report the same things. However, it should be generally agreed upon that slurs and bigoted language, no matter what form it takes, should be stopped and reported. In agreeing upon this we have a focal point upon which all people can take action against. While you might not think “fuck stick” is offensive enough to report we can all agree that “faggot” is.

As well it should be recognized that this script is not for everyone. I wish I could say that it was for everyone. However, if someone is uncomfortable with confrontation or the possibility of backlash then this could be dangerous. As I make clear above, by being vocal in opposition to abusive and harassing language online we make ourselves a target. Sticking to a script makes it easier, but doesn’t necessarily make it easy. When you ask someone to stop using the word “homo” and they start calling you a “queer” and a “faggot” incessantly it can be quite difficult. So for those of you who are committed to this type of cause, but aren’t comfortable with voicing your opposition, just skip straight to reporting the behavior. Your personal safety and well-being comes first.

Closing Thoughts

This script is extremely simple and actively works towards creating a safer space for all people who are playing video games online. It’s important because those who oppose abusive language online are perceived as a small minority. In not being vocal about it our presence is minimized. I believe that if we are vocal enough we can actively change the atmosphere of online gaming, but only if we are vocal.

This script works towards creating a somewhat predictable result from a chaotic environment. By using a script like this we are actively shaping the situation in our favor. We are taking steps towards a safer environment in a controlled and directed way. Without the script things can easily go awry and end poorly. Will this script always work in the desired way? No. But at least it increases our chances.


The Pledge:

As a gamer, I realize I contribute to an incredibly diverse social network of gamers around the world, and that my actions have the ability to impact others. In effort to make a positive impact, and to create a community that is welcoming to all, I pledge to not use bigoted language while gaming, online and otherwise.

Bigoted language includes, but is not limited to, slurs based on race? (e.g, "chink," "nigger," "wetback"), ethnicity? (e.g., "kyke," "polock"), gender? (e.g., "cunt," "bitch," "tranny"), religion? (e.g., "dirty jew," "papist"), sexual orientation? (e.g., "gay," "fag[got]," "dyke"), and disability? (e.g., "retard[ed]").

Read more about the pledge, including what is and isn't included, and the overall purpose here.

Read why you shouldn't use the word "rape" casually here.

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