Microsoft Launches Tool to Report Hate Speech on Its Services

A new online form enables users to report threatening or abusive content found on its online communities and services.

hate speech

Microsoft has launched a new tool that alerts the Redmond, Wash., software giant when its users encounter hate speech on its consumer online services. A dedicated web form now allows users of the company's Skype, Xbox Live and other services to report the offending content.

"Without question, the internet is overwhelmingly a force for good. We strive to provide services that are trustworthy, inclusive and used responsibly. Unfortunately, we know these services can also be used to advocate and perpetuate hate, prejudice and abuse," wrote Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft's chief online safety officer, in a blog post. "As part of our commitment to human rights, we seek to respect the broad range of users' fundamental rights, including the rights to free expression and access to information, without fear of encountering hate speech or abuse."

When a report is filed, staffers will evaluate the complaint, taking into consideration the context of the alleged hate speech and take action accordingly, said Beauchere. As a rule, the company said it blocks content that advocates hatred and violence on the basis of age, disability, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Please note that not all content that you may find offensive is considered hate speech and, in reviewing your report, Microsoft may choose to take no action," Beauchere cautioned.

Acknowledging that her company may not always get it right when addressing violations of its terms of use, Beauchere announced Microsoft has also launched a separate multiservice reconsideration form. The tool allows customers to request that their content be reinstated if they feel it was erroneously disabled or taken down.

Recently, a Microsoft-sponsored survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance found that nearly four in 10 American teens had been subjected to cruel or abusive messages online. Objectionable remarks were often made about a teen's appearance (45 percent), their sexual orientation (27 percent), gender (25 percent) or ethnicity (24 percent).

Microsoft isn't the only tech heavyweight that has pledged to combat online abuse.

Google provides tools of its own to report threatening content. "Anyone using our Services to single someone out for malicious abuse, to threaten someone with serious harm, to sexualize a person in an unwanted way, or to harass in other ways may have the offending content removed or be permanently banned from using the Services," states the company's User Content and Conduct Policy. "In emergency situations, we may escalate imminent threats of serious harm to law enforcement."

Following a string of high-profile women leaving its platform after enduring harassment from some users, Twitter announced earlier this month that it was turning on its Quality Filter for all of its users. Twitter's Quality Filter technology, formerly reserved for celebrities, government officials and other public figures with "verified" accounts, analyzes various figures to weed out tweets from bots and other low-quality content, preventing them from appearing on users' timelines and other parts of the Twitter experience.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...