Microsoft: Swastikas Will Remain Banned from Xbox Live

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In his role as head of Xbox Live enforcement, Stephen Toulouse gets to answer all kinds of strange questions. Recently one of those questions was apparently "Can I use a Swastika as my logo in Call of Duty: Black Ops?" When Toulouse responded with the obvious answer ("No, of course you can't, we'll ban you.") he was met with some pushback by people he refers to as "contrarians" and "internet pundits" who decided to educate him on the long and storied history of the swastika as a symbol of good fortune and how just because the Nazis used it, it doesn't make the symbol itself a bad thing.

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Toulouse covers the topic on his blog in a post titled "Context" and it's an interesting read if for no other reason than to get a peek inside the day-to-day issues the Xbox Live Enforcement team deals with. It seems to me that just saying "No, you can't use it" would've been enough but Toulouse goes out of his way to back up and explain his stance, saying that in spite of the fact that the symbol predates the Nazis by thousands of years:

...the prosecution of an entire world war in the 20th century co-opted that symbol for western civilizations into a symbol of evil and hatred. Let's be clear: no educated human on the planet looks at the swastika symbol on a video game service [...] and says "oh, that symbol has nothing at all in any way to do with global genocide of an entire race and, even if it did, one should totally and reasonably ignore that because it's a symbol that was stolen or coop-ted from religions."

In the face of his original statment Toulouse was told that if Microsoft banned the swastika then it...:

...should equally ban the star of David, the Christian cross, and yes I am not kidding, the infinity symbol because under various niche interpretations of those symbols, they are as evil as the swastika symbol and I should apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox LIVE to respect all viewpoints because of the United States First Amendment.

However he is not unsympathetic to those hoping to rescue the swastika from its maligned place in the minds of most Westerners:

It's not political correctness, it's fundamental respect. If you think the swastika symbol should be re-evaluated by societies all over the Earth, I think that's great. 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. And by the way, that doesn't just go for the Swastika, it applies to many other symbols as well that my team does indeed take action on when we see it.

He finishes with the TL;DR (too long, didn't read) version of the post:

TL;DR: If you see offensive symbols in Call of Duty, Black Ops, report them using the in game option and they will be taken care of. If you want to argue that swastikas are actually AWESOME, go to another forum. On Xbox LIVE they are not allowed.

As amused as I was by this whole situation (though I don't think I'd find it the least bit amusing if enforcing these rules and dealing with this kind of feedback was my job) it's interesting from a policy-creation point of view. In this case, banning the swastika is a pretty clear-cut decision for any reasonable person but what about, say, a pentacle? To some people it represents Satanism and is seriously offensive. To others it's just a kitschy, harmless symbol to stick on a Halloween costume. Is using it against the Xbox Live terms of service? I honestly don't know (I asked Toulouse on Twitter but didn't get a response; in retrospect he probably thought I was another 'contrarian' looking for a fight) and I'm really glad I'm not the one who has to decide. The only thing I know for sure is that whatever policy the team made in the case of the pentacle (or any other symbol), there's some irate user out there who disagrees with the decision.

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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