After the horrifying 2019 shooting at New Zealand’s Christchurch mosques, over 100 profiles on the gaming platform Steam paid tribute to the shooter.

A digital videogame storefront with some social networking features, Steam isn’t the most obvious home for charged political content. But just hours after the shooting, 66 Steam profiles took on the shooter’s name. Dozens more soon followed. At that time, the Christchurch shooter wasn’t the only terrorist commemorated by Steam users; hundreds of Steam pages referenced massacres in Parkland, Isla Vista, and Charleston.

Steam publisher Valve removed profiles referencing the Christchurch shooting after Kotaku reached out for comment on an article. But the fact that so many people—extremists, edgelords, or trolls—felt that they could profess these views on an over $4 billion platform with over 95 million active users says something unflattering about Steam.

Today, the Anti-Defamation League, a 107-year-old nonprofit founded to fight identity-based discrimination, launched its report on “how the Steam platform harbors extremists.” “It was disturbingly easy for ADL’s researchers to locate Steam users who espouse extremist beliefs, using language associated with white supremacist ideology and subcultures, including key terms, common numeric hate symbols, and acronyms,” the report reads. In a random search, researchers found hundreds of Steam profiles advertising Nazi or white supremacist imagery in their usernames, profile pictures, posts, or bio descriptions.

The ADL’s sample size is not significant enough to confirm that extremism is widely prevalent on Steam, or more common than on other platforms. It does, though, underscore how little Steam has done to address a long-known issue. “It’s an effective platform for extremists because there’s a very public acknowledgement of a lack of content moderation,” says Daniel Kelley, the assistant director of the ADL’s center for technology and society. “By the standards of 2020, their approach is super outdated and not in keeping with other companies in social media and games that are ramping up efforts to make their platforms respectful and inclusive spaces for all people.”

Steam is famously hands-off about moderating content uploaded to its platform. Although Steam’s community guidelines prohibit discrimination, “abusive language,” and “offensive content,” a 2017 VICE report revealed how groups with titles like “Nazi Revolutionary Party,” “Hitler’s Nazi’s,” and “Zhe Nazi Followers of Razor_One” persisted there. At the time, term “Nazi” returned 7,893 search results for Steam Groups. After similar reports from the Huffington Post and The Center for Investigative Reporting, Valve silently began removing extremist groups and profiles called out in the press. It wasn’t a total purge; even today, searching the term “Nazi” under Steam’s “Community” page returns over 21,000 results.

Valve has had mixed results moderating the content of the games its users sell, too. The company posted a blog in 2018 justifying that permissive approach, saying that when it comes to the games on Steam, “the right approach is to allow everything onto the Steam store,” except offerings that are illegal or “straight up trolling.” The post argued that this philosophy let Valve focus more on “building tools to give people control over what kinds of content they see,” the digital equivalent of plugging your fingers in your ears. Some games did cross the line, though: In 2018, Valve removed Active Shooter, in which the player commits a school shooting, and in 2019, a game called Rape Day, in which “you can rape and murder during a zombie apocalypse.”

“White supremacist subculture traffics in bigoted humor, shitposting, memes,” says Joanna Mendelson, the associate director for the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “All of this serves to normalize extremist ideology and hatred. You find that same subculture on Steam.”


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