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Microsoft’s new trick to defeat Xbox trolls and thumb thugs

Fremont has one troll living under the Aurora Bridge, but it's lovable, unlike the hundreds of thousands of Internet trolls who eat up the discord they create through inflammatory, off-topic messages and personal attacks. (Linda Thomas photo)

Once upon a time, children were told to beware of the troll that lives under the bridge. The hideous, dim-witted creature threatened to eat anyone who passed over its bridge.

That story is a pleasant fable compared with the reality of Internet trolls – or thumb thugs as they’re also called – who eat up the discord they create through inflammatory, off-topic messages and personal attacks.

Microsoft says there are so many trolls playing Xbox Live games they can’t defeat them all.

The company is now recruiting members for its “Enforcement United” team. That’s a tough sounding name for players who “get involved to help ensure that Xbox Live remains a fun, fair and safer place for everyone.”

Microsoft has had some success with its own people hired to check up on gamers who are ruining it for every one else.

“I’m bleeping, bleep. Yeah, well bleep you. Go bleepity bleep yourself. Yeah. Bleep.”

Obviously hard to follow, that online rant is from a 9-year-old Xbox Live gamer. The voice of someone identifying himself as Mr. John Trollson burst into the Modern Warfare 3 game the young boy was playing.

“I was informed by one of my staff members that you were verbally harassing them. Could you please explain why and what was happening?” he asked.

The boy made up a story about other players making fun of his family.

Trollson didn’t buy that. He asked to talk with a parent, but no one was home with the boy. That’s the problem.

The boy eventually apologized for the language he used.

“I’m sorry about that. They (other players) were just on my nerves, so I just flipped out,” he said. “Anger problems.”

That kind of attempt to talk directly with people who interrupt play for others might be temporarily effective, but it’s also time consuming.

In a blog post, Microsoft explains the Xbox Live community is too big to be policed by employees. So they’ll rely more on players to provide their opinions on whether particular gamers violate Xbox Live Code of Conduct.

Information from players will be fed into an algorithm to determine whether the system should spit out a particular gamer’s tag.

“We have built in a series of carefully designed controls so no individual participant can wield unchecked power over another,” says Glenn Kaleta, director of Xbox Live policy and enforcement. “The system will also continually calibrate itself to understand how reliable the data is and the sources it comes from.”

Nice trick if it works. The Internet has struggled with ways to deal with trolls and nothing seems to work.

Many news sites across the country have turned off comments completely. Some require a Facebook page to comment, with the idea being that taking away anonymity also takes away a person’s vitriol online.

Gawker has gone the opposite direction. The online gossip site announced recently they’ll be letting readers rewrite headlines and reframe articles based on comments.

Microsoft is probably closer to a solution by letting users police each other, which is what I prefer to do also.


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