Today, the company announced two new additions to its online services: one tool for reporting hate speech so that the company can take it down, and another for requesting that the company reinstate content once it comes down. The move comes as criticism from Internet denizens about online abuse reached a new peak this month, notably after online trolls waged Twitter campaign against comedian Leslie Jones and then someone hacked into her personal website and exposed her private information.
For Microsoft, the move is as important as it is symbolic. Up to 40 percent of Internet users have experienced harassment at one point or another. People don’t typically think of Microsoft first when it comes to how abuse spreads on the Internet. Those conversations tend to revolve around social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, zooming in on how these companies try to strike a balance between protecting free speech and cracking down on players who use their services as a way to promote violence or threats—with Twitter receiving more and more criticism in recent weeks. But Microsoft wants to get ahead of the game.
“We’ve never—nor will we ever—permit content that promotes hatred based on age, disability, gender, ethnic origin, race, religion, and sexual orientation,” Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer, wrote in a company blog post today. As Microsoft notes, its principles and policies have always been this way. But the timing of this new announcement is key.
By introducing new processes for customers to report hate speech, Microsoft says, it hopes to make it easier for users to call the company’s attention to the stuff that truly matters. Right now, the company institutes a “notice-and-takedown” approach, and has an internal team that evaluates each complaint that comes through, considers context and other factors, and determines what action to take. This includes monitoring content on its various products—including Outlook, Skype, Xbox, OneDrive, and Office 365. But with these new tools—and with more input from its users—the company hopes reviews of abuse reports can happen even faster, and get even better.