Freedom of expression is possibly one of the greatest things about the internet. The ability to be who you want to be and say what you want to say and to mix with individuals being and saying exactly what they wish is something that should be highly prized and indeed zealously protected. However on the 17th of March WorldNetDaily brought to us news that Microsoft had disallowed an Xbox LIVE username titled “mpeach obama21” on the grounds that it might cause offense and if that doesn’t sound silly enough then wait until you hear the justification Xbox LIVE gave for this decision.
Now I think that most of us would agree that freedom of speech should carry with it a certain amount of responsibility. Racial slurs and other discriminatory usernames are clearly only chosen with the intent of inflaming and offending, but how would a company explain not allowing an account by the name of “mpeach obama21”? Well if that company were Microsoft they’d apparently explain it in the following way.
“This name is actually, it’s not likeable,” Jordan, a Microsoft Xbox LIVE spokesman said to WorldNetDaily. “If you were Obama, what would you feel if you saw this?”
When I first read the article, I automatically assumed it was some kind of joke, but tragically it isn’t. I shouldn’t have to explain why the Microsoft spokesman’s closing question is ludicrous but since this is the internet, I will. Any public figure has to accept the fact that they are going to be subject to public scrutiny and when we’re talking about political figures it’s essential that they are. The fact that we in the Western World have the freedom to question or even criticise our leaders is what makes our respective democracies so great. Now I could quote any number of founding fathers and countless other historical figures to explain why censoring dissenting voices for the sake of what has become known as “Political Correctness” is a bad and indeed a very dangerous thing but if I actually need to do that then I will truly lose all hope for humanity.
Now some might say “well it’s just a gaming account so frankly who cares?” but this attitude misses the point for a couple of reasons. First of all, it implies that certain venues are or should be allowed a wider range of freedoms than others and secondly, the Xbox LIVE Code of Conduct was recently altered to allow tags making reference to a users sexual orientation. My question is, aren’t your political views every bit as much of who you are as your sexual orientation, and if so, is that something that should be censored because other people might disagree with it?
WorldNetDaily asked Jordan whether the Xbox policy prohibits political speech (which it doesn’t) and he replied with, “Well it doesn’t actually say anything about politics, but it could pertain to historical events.”
The Xbox LIVE policy dealing with “historical events” states, “Don’t create a gamertag, profile content, or in-game content that references controversial religious topics, notorious people, organizations, or sensitive current or historical events that may also be considered inappropriate.”
Leaving aside the fact that Jordan himself doesn’t sound too certain of what exactly the justification for banning the gamertag should be, is there a single person out there who believes that the username “mpeach obama21” in any way fits into the above policy description?
The account in question belonged to a 15 year old who wanted it reinstated because “it’s the principle of the thing”. His father, Chad Willis, also has strong views on Microsoft’s decision stating, “This just confirms my resolve in making sure that my family and friends are aware of the collusion, albeit veiled, between Microsoft and the current occupant of the White House.” Microsoft Xbox LIVE have refused to reinstate the name.
Personally, I think that the name “mpeach obama21” being used by a 15 year old on Xbox LIVE is silly and it’s not a sentiment I agree with politically speaking and nor do I have any comment on his father’s implied conspiracy theory because frankly I don’t know enough about what he is referring to. But you know what? None of that matters because like the kid himself said, “it’s the principle of the thing”. How much you or I might disagree with the title of the gamertag is completely irrelevant, the point is that a political statement is being suppressed for the sake of political correctness and no matter how insignificant an Xbox LIVE username might be, if history has taught us anything it’s that censorship of this kind leads us onto a slippery slope. A slope that descends into places we really don’t want to go.
In other words Microsoft… just give the kid his damn gamertag back and stop going along with this suffocating nanny state that has been creeping up on us in the last two decades.
So what do you make of Microsoft’s Decision? Silly censorship or justifiable safeguarding? Comment below.