April 27, 2022

You know that feeling when you just get the kid to bed, where for a flicker of a moment you wonder what you will do with your free time, and then you decide to go to bed? Yeah, me too.

🪛 Situational awareness: Apple has launched the Self Service Repair program, with manuals, parts and tools available for users to make their own repairs on iPhone 12, iPhone 13 and some iPhone SE lineups.

Today's newsletter is 1,194 words, a 5-minute read.

1 big thing: Experts warn about rising extremism in gaming spaces

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Far-right extremists are a growing presence in gaming, researchers have found, while the industry’s hidden metrics, lackluster content moderation and head-in-the-sand attitudes get in the way of assessing and combatting the problem, Axios' Peter Allen Clark reports.

Why it matters: Gaming and game-adjacent platforms have grown into some of the largest entertainment industries in the world, leading to massive opportunities for recruitment and organizing by extremist groups.

  • A December 2021 report from the Extremism and Gaming Research Network (EGRN) found that innovative efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism in gaming spaces are "nearly undetectable."

State of play: Extremism in games is "a growing threat," Alex Newhouse, the deputy director at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, said in a Games Developers Conference talk last month.

  • "Games are becoming increasingly social ... those social hooks provide the structures and the infrastructure for extremists to organize, mobilize and spread their hateful and extreme ideologies," Newhouse said.

What's happening: In games stretching from military shooters like Call of Duty to open creative environments like Roblox, extremist groups spread abusive messages and foster relationships.

  • Experts like Rachel Kowert, research director at Take This, have found that games can create unique relationships due to the cooperative, stimulating experiences they present. "Friendships are closer, long lasting and form faster than in other spaces on the internet," she told Axios.
  • Since much of the player data is private, researchers say they lack detailed knowledge of which games or platforms extremists use most for these activities. Nor, according to Kowert, has there been overt cooperation with many studios to share that data.

By the numbers:

  • A 2019 report from the Anti-Defamation League found that 53% of online multiplayer game players who experience harassment believe "they were targeted because of their race/ethnicity, religion, ability, gender or sexual orientation."
  • The same report found that almost one in four players, 23%, said they have been "exposed to discussions about white supremacist ideology."

What they're saying: "While it may be a small number of players, compared to the billions of players, they are a very hardened, very influential, very dangerous group of people who are living their lives in these gaming spaces, with little to no consequences to their actions or behaviors," Kowert told Axios.

The big picture: To Kowert, gaming's extremist problem has grown to its imposing size because of ignorance, discomfort about the topic and an unwillingness to understand the threat.

  • "I don't think it's been recognized as something important, worth their time, worth their money, worth their effort," she said.

Negative perceptions of video games, like violence or addiction, might also keep industry leaders from wanting to look too closely into how hate groups are building networks.

  • The Entertainment Software Association, the leading industry group for games, declined to comment.

The intrigue: This spread of extremism in gaming is similar to what we’ve seen on social media platforms like Facebook, but with significant differences.

  • "We know that the big the giant social media companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, have dedicated counterterrorism teams that are working on this day in day out," Newhouse said. "We also know that video games simply just often don't have the resources to stand up counterterrorism teams specifically, or don't have the expertise necessary to do so."

The other side: "We abhor extremist ideologies and have zero tolerance for extremist content of any kind on Roblox," Remy Malan, VP of trust and safety operations at Roblox, said in a statement to Axios.

  • "Discord has a zero-tolerance policy toward hate and violent extremism of any kind," a Discord spokesperson told Axios. "When we come across such activity, we take immediate action, including banning users and shutting down servers, and engaging with authorities when appropriate."

2. Digesting Elon Musk’s Twitter deal

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Twitter revealed fresh details of its agreement to sell itself to Elon Musk on Tuesday, even as Musk aired more of his thoughts on how to pivot the service towards greater free speech.

Why it matters: People inside and out of Twitter are still trying to digest the deal and figure out what it will mean for the platform.

Here are some of Tuesday's key developments:

Break-up fee: Twitter will owe Musk $1 billion if it finds a different buyer or recommends that shareholders oppose the current offer, while Musk would owe Twitter $1 billion if he calls off the deal, according to an SEC filing on Tuesday.

  • This thread gets into other interesting details in the contract, including what Musk is and isn't allowed to say about Twitter.

Content moderation: Musk reiterated that his vision of free speech on Twitter means using the law as the main arbiter of what is permissible.

  • "If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect," he said.
  • Critics note that two of his other plans — reducing bots and verifying identity — would limit legal speech.

Inside the office: Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's top legal and policy executive, became tearful during a meeting while discussing with staff the potential impacts of the deal, Politico reported.

Markets react: Tesla shares fell, making the Twitter deal potentially more difficult and costly for Musk, Axios' Dan Primack reported.

Ex-CEO's take: Ev Williams, a co-founder of Twitter and its former CEO, said on Tuesday night that he's "excited to see what happens" with Elon Musk at the helm.

  • But he also cautioned that he has "respect for the people who have been shepherding" the company, "especially on the trust and safety side."

3. FCC to vote on new robocall plan

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission will vote in May on a plan by chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel meant to help stem the flow of overseas robocalls into the U.S., Axios' Margaret Harding McGill reports.

Why it matters: Americans are inundated with spam, and federal agencies are struggling to combat illegal messages.

Driving the news: The rules, if adopted by the commission at its May 19 meeting, would require gateway providers — which carry international calls to American networks — to participate in robocall mitigation efforts.

  • If they fail to comply with the rules, the providers could be blocked by other network participants, which the FCC says would make them unable to operate.

What they're saying: "International robocallers use these gateways to enter our phone networks and defraud American consumers," Rosenworcel said in a statement. "But no more. We won't allow them to bypass our laws and hide from enforcement."

4. Take note

On Tap

  • A host of companies report earnings today, including Facebook parent Meta, Qualcomm, Spotify, PayPal and Pinterest.

Trading Places

  • NFT fantasy sports company Sorare hired veteran Spotify design executive Dan Sormaz as its head of design.


5. After you Login

Bay Area officials may not have found a way to connect Marin County and San Francisco via rail, but that doesn't mean an AI-powered art algorithm can't show what it would look like if BART trains traversed the Golden Gate Bridge.