Safeguarding in Esports: Q&A with GoBubble Co-Founder and CIO, Henry Platten
Today we’re talking about the Commonwealth Games Esports Championships which are launching this weekend in Birmingham (UK), a partnership between the Global ESports Federation and the Commonwealth Games Federation, that will feature Esports athletes from across the Commonwealth.
Henry you’re one of the two Co-Founders of next-generation AI content moderation and detection company GoBubble, and in your role as Safeguarding Advisor to the Global Esports Federation, you’ll be advising the Federation on safeguarding and online safety issues for the Championships. Can you tell us a bit more about the tournament and your role in working with the Global Esports Federation?
Henry Platten (HP): I'm really proud to work with the Global Esports Federation and their shared mission to create a safe space for gaming experiences for all Esports athletes as a world connected.
The Championships being hosted in Birmingham this year heralds a new era for Esports globally, its inclusion with the Commonwealth Games and the dedication and commitment of Esports athletes, need to be highly commended. As with all sports, both on and offline, there can be safeguarding risks which can be presented and it is my great privilege to be able to help and bring my expertise from working within the digital space and also from law enforcement to help to create safer communities for everyone.
Your team's mission at GoBubble is to transform digital lives by silencing online abuse and helping to build safer, kinder and healthier digital communities.
We know your journey here began when you were a Police Sergeant over 17 years ago, where you witnessed first-hand the damaging effects that online abuse and harassment can have on an individual, and subsequently worked closely with high-profile individuals suffering from online harassment and threats.
How do you feel our online habits have changed in that time, particularly around online gaming, and how can we begin to educate and protect ourselves from potential online harms today?
HP: The evolution of gaming and also its universal appeal, has created a huge opportunity for those who wish to do harm to others.
Bad actors see the demand and the interest as an opportunity to exploit and unfortunately, at times when playing games, we can be at our most vulnerable because we’re consumed by the experience and the entertainment that comes along with it.
The importance of content moderation and safeguarding within games, not only during Esports tournaments but also at home through usernames, profile images or in-game chat, can have important and critical consequences for online engagement and player experience.
Unfortunately, there are individuals who will capitalise on, and exploit, design elements within some games, which enhances the opportunity for them to spread more hate or to groom other players.
Due to the increase in gaming activity following the pandemic, as well as the global increase in wider device and platform access, there are now more people playing games online and across a wider demographic than ever before. Unfortunately as a result it also increases the risks that can be faced.
As an organisation GoBubble is receiving global recognition and has clients within the UK, Europe, Australia, and the US. How would you say the challenges differ geographically? Or are we all at risk in the same way?
HP: Human beings are inherently the same, that being said, there are cultural differences which current solutions have failed to include. As a result there are safeguarding shortfalls in failing to protect all communities.
Online harm and illegal content is similar to spam, in that people want to impact on the emotions and behaviours of another - sometimes to drive a specific action.
It's easier to identify phishing and scams in terms of problematic links and malware that can be associated.
However, we’re not in the business of taking the easy route.
Our AI transforms digital lives, protecting people and brands around the world and supporting positive mental health and well-being. We focus on the area of user-generated behaviour and sentiment as a key analysis tool for our cutting-edge Emotion AI, to provide an in-depth understanding of both the content posted and the behaviour of the author.
Our mission is to create safer, healthier, and kinder online communities and empower as many people as we can globally to stay safer online.
We can see from the recent international press coverage that your team works closely with top teams, players, and governing bodies within sport - how does the type and pattern of abuse and bullying differ within fan communities, if in fact, it does, within offline sports compared with Esports and gaming?
HP: Global trends that appear irrespective of the level or the sport, online or offline, focus on topics including misogyny, anti-LGBTQ+, and racism. This content is offensive and serves no role in modern society.
Global trends can occur on a team-by-team basis within an existing league structure, be that all sports or for example football. The recent studies we have conducted actually show that the type of emojis can differ in terms of toxicity when focused on teams within a particular League, that there are some common emojis that will focus on specific players and others that are only used in isolation to cause alarm or stress towards players themselves in a focused and delivered way. This has been the role of the 💉 and a clown emoji where the aim is around the anti-vaccine narrative within covid treatments.
We're aware that campaigns such as ‘Women in Esports’ from British Esports promote the inclusion of women and minority genders in the Esports industry, but misogyny and sexist abuse online seem to be on the rapid increase. Can you tell us any more about the patterns of gender-based abuse that you're seeing? And what can we do to change things?
HP: Misogynistic abuse and hate is sickening and the level and volume that comes through can be deafening at times.
The bigotry that is shown towards female athletes focuses on several key common trends. One being comparing the sport to male professionals and quality, implying this simply because a team is staffed with female athletes that they will perform at a lesser standard than male players. There is also a high degree of bigotry and comments that can come through in terms of insulting not just female athletes, but also female supporters.
When insults are passed toward male athletes and male supporters they tend to be generic in terms of extreme profanity, however, when directed towards female athletes and supporters it tends to be a far more graphic and personalised attack or threat; which can cause greater emotional distress and impact the person's well-being.
A proportion of imagery is amended and adopted and used for toxic purposes, in terms of taking brands and logos and changing them with disgusting and tasteless bigotry, mocking female athletes wearing the badge and competing within their chosen professional sport.
Thankfully, the global spotlight is being turned on and greater awareness and education, are empowering people to stand up and support female athletes. This has been shown through record crowds during the UEFA Women's Euros in 2022 last month and also how sensitive brands have adopted and tried to flip the narrative of misogyny through their own campaigns football is also striving to recognise, amplify and celebrate the role of female athletes.
Similarly with more than half of the 54 countries competing in Birmingham 2022 having laws against same-sex relationships, what are your thoughts on the Federation’s statement on such countries that don’t match the values of the Commonwealth will be less likely to host the games in the future?
HP: We stand by and fully support the statements of the Commonwealth. All sports and Esports should be fully inclusive, creating a safe and engaging environment for all, no matter your gender, sexuality, race, disability, age or religion. We fully applaud the Commonwealth Games steering committee's approach to upholding the rights of the LGBTQI+ community.
And finally, the Commonwealth Games Esports Championships are going to be incredibly exciting and fans will be able to get involved in various ways which you can learn more about here. So as an Esports fan yourself, can you share with us any of your favourite games or concepts old or new?
HP: A favourite of mine is one that will be one of the three games in the Commonwealth Games Esports Championship, which is Rocket League! I enjoy playing it with my own children who are far better at it than I am…I’m also a fan of classic titles, like Goldeneye, which has always been one of my favourites on the N64 and still has a special place in my heart.
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