Free Expression Has Its Limits On Xbox Live

23 11 2010

We champion our First-Amendment right to free speech as a protection of our right to be who we want to be. Our choices reflect our values, and manifest themselves physically as representations of who we are.

Call of Duty: Black Ops allows its players to do just that; using a new feature called the Playercard Editor, users can choose between 480 images which can be layered on top of each other, with the options of coloring, moving, rotating, flipping, or resizing each image to create a unique and individualized graphic emblem.

Some of the many emblems Black Ops players can choose from to make their individualized playercard.

I’m frankly surprised that it took this long since the game’s release (two weeks) for someone to invoke Microsoft’s wrath on the subject of offensive emblems. Twitter user “JohnJohnson39923” questioned Xbox Live Director of Policy and Enforcement Stephen Toulouse whether or not it would be alright to use a swastika as a Call of Duty emblem “not to offend,” but because he/she “like[s] the design.”

Toulouse replied via Twitter, “Seriously dude?,” going on to say that any users using a swastika as an emblem will be banned from the Xbox Live network. Unfortunately for Toulouse, this statement brought out a caravan of the Internet’s anonymous warriors for free speech, citing what Toulouse referred to on his blog as “contrarian” viewpoints on the swastika and other well-known symbols.

Toulouse said the commentators suggested he should “apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox Live” because under “niche interpretations” symbols such as the Star of David and the Christian cross can be considered as vile as the swastika.

It’s too bad for those “Internet pundits” that Xbox Live is not a community to which United States free speech laws apply; it is a virtual community owned and operated by Microsoft Inc. It is therefore this organization that sets and enforces the rules by which members of the Xbox Live community abide.

Toulouse considers the policy “fundamental respect,” rather than political correctness. While he believes it’s “great” to have society reevaluate the swastika symbol, he wrote on his blog, “Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is not the right place to do that.”