One of the greatest insults Twitter ever thrust upon its users is the fact it began dictating what its users could and could not see.
At the behest of the multitude of easily offended and weak-minded social justice users, Twitter implemented a “trust and safety council” by which to police Twitter for insulting or offensive tweets. This council was made up of social justice groups that leaned heavily to the left, and as a result, a right-leaning utterance that seemed even slightly offensive would get you suspended.
They also selected certain users for “shadow banning,” where you were not told that your feed was being restricted from public view by Twitter, but you suddenly found yourself shouting into a void where hardly anyone saw your tweets. This was all in the name of protecting others from your opinions.
Many media companies have taken to doing this sort of thing, where they censor or punish users for content they feel is out of bounds for their audience to see or participate in. They treat their users like children, deciding what is and isn’t appropriate for grown men and women to view, and undertake the labor of deciding for them what they can and can’t enjoy.
And then, to add insult to injury, they pat themselves on the back for it. They, along with their social justice thought police squad, truly believe that treating their customers like children is a good thing.
But where many online media companies have taken it upon themselves to be self-aggrandized babysitters, Valve Corporation has thrown that level of sophistry out the window.
Valve is known primarily for two things. Making video games such as Half-Life and Portal, and selling games through the online store known as “Steam.” Steam is one of the most heavily trafficked video game stores on the planet, with games ranging from the high-profile mainstream titles to the hardly known indie game. If the game exists, you can probably find it on Steam.
Recently, Valve ran into controversy when a game called “Active-Shooter” was published by a developer called “Acid” up on the Steam store. Within the game, you play the role of a school shooter, and you get points based on how many police or unarmed civilians you kill. This, of course, resulted in a huge backlash.
Valve immediately took the game down and banned the developer, citing Acid as “a troll, with a history of customer abuse, publishing copyrighted material, and user review manipulation.” For many small-time game developers, being banned from the Steam store is a death sentence for your company. Without Steam, there’s a good chance your indie games will never be seen.
As most things like this follow, discussions and demands popped up around Steam about content censorship and being better at only allowing games to be published that don’t run contrary to today’s sacred cows.
Valve reacted, but not in the way many are used to. In fact, as an answer to the censorship question, Valve went the opposite direction according to a message released by Valve executive Erik Johnson on the Steam Blog:
So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.
To drive the point home, Johnson continued later on the in the blog by breaking some bad news to those who were hoping to see a more restrained version of Steam, that only allowed approved games by those whose sensibilities are more fragile:
So what does this mean? It means that the Steam Store is going to contain something that you hate, and don’t think should exist. Unless you don’t have any opinions, that’s guaranteed to happen. But you’re also going to see something on the Store that you believe should be there, and some other people will hate it and want it not to exist.
It also means that the games we allow onto the Store will not be a reflection of Valve’s values, beyond a simple belief that you all have the right to create & consume the content you choose. The two points above apply to all of us at Valve as well. If you see something on Steam that you think should not exist, it’s almost certain that someone at Valve is right there with you.
In short, Valve is going to allow its users to decided what they want to see and play, and the company will keep its personal opinions to itself. The only exception, noted Johnson, were games that are illegal or made to strictly troll those who have suffered such as “active-shooter.”
I’m both happy and sad to say that this is an unprecedented move by an online company. The fact that a corporation is willing to allow you and I to decide for ourselves what we get to experience is woefully rare. The route of censoring, or censoring on behalf of, is indicative of a lack of respect toward users.
Valve, however, has proven that it’s willing to allow its users to see things they may not like in the interest of freedom of thought and expression. They are treating their users with respect and dignity by not shielding them away from differentiating thoughts or opinions.
But what’s more is that Valve has not taken sides. It has not told its user base that one kind of ideology is better than another, or that an entire group of people’s thoughts and opinions are worthy of punishment and silencing. This is worthy of so much respect, especially at a time when censorship is the road more easily taken.
This is going to pay off for Valve in the long run, and I hope other online companies are paying attention.