Valve is notorious for a lot of things, but beyond not releasing Half-Life 3, one thing stands out: Its hands-off, often silent approach to running the world's biggest PC gaming platform, Steam. This has landed the company in hot water in the past, but in the face of calls to crack down on user groups that glorify things such as Nazism, white supremacy and school shooters, Valve has yet to speak up.
Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Over the past couple of weeks, sites such as Motherboard, The Center For Investigative Reporting and Huffington Post have dropped damning reports about the state of Steam groups and curators. The author of the HuffPo report has said that he'd uncovered "thousands" of groups and accounts that claimed to "be Nazis, defend school shooters, and spout racist and violent bile", while The Center For Investigative Reporting said it had uncovered 173 groups that specifically glorified school shooting.
All three sites posted screenshots of numerous groups and curators with names such as "KILL ALL THE JEWS", "How to shoot up a school", and "Nationalsozíalismus". Some of these groups are likely memers trying to be edgy (something that's often functionally indistinguishable from tactics employed by sites such as the Daily Stormer to normalise their views), but others, like the latter, claimed to be serious about it. "Group for all Neo-Nazis and White [sic] Supermacists… Fuck jews. Fuck Blacks. Fuck Islam," read the now-defunct page's description. Some of the school shooter-related pages even reportedly contained posts mentioning specific locations, plans and weaponry. Last year, The Daily Beast discovered racist rantings from school shooter William Edward Atchison on Steam, as well.
Given the current national dialogue in the US about racism and rise in school shootings, this is an incredibly bad look for Valve. In the wake of the most recent round of Steam-related revelations, the conversation has filtered up to more mainstream publications, even prompting a petition on activist website Care2 titled "Tell this online platform that hate is not OK". The petition had nearly 25,000 signatures as of today.
And yet, Valve remains silent on the issue and has for quite some time. Motherboard points out that it hasn't received a single comment from Valve since it first started reporting on this issue in October 2017. Kotaku has also reached out to Valve about hate speech and moderation on a few occasions in the past year - most recently this week - and heard nothing back.
Valve does, however, have a habit of quietly removing specific hate groups any time they're mentioned in the press - something Motherboard has noted in its own reporting on more isolated incidents. It seems, however, that Valve made its biggest crackdown yet within the past two weeks, as every group linked in the aforementioned articles now presents an error message that reads, "this group has been administratively disabled", and specific searches for the screenshotted groups turn up zero results. Meanwhile, searching terms such as "Nazi" and "school shooter" now yields groups that are largely opposed to those things or, in the case of the latter, hardly anything at all.
That said, Steam still contains quite a few groups and users who profess to racist or otherwise hateful leanings. For example:
Daily Stormer affiliations, mentions of "purges", overt racism against black and Jewish people - it's still there. You just can't find it by searching "Nazi" any more.
Valve's crackdowns, then, while a step in the right direction, continue to be inconsistent at best. And while other platforms such as Discord and Twitch make explicit statements against hate and create specific rules that prohibit it, Steam remains in a nebulous grey area.