Being Muted In A Video Game Doesn't Violate Civil Rights, U.S. Court Declares

Image: Darrin Loeliger, The Noun Project

If you or a loved one has been muted in a video game, you may not be entitled to financial compensation. Exposure to muting might finally wake you up to the idea that there are consequences to your actions. Please do wait. Do not call now!

This take on a weirdly beloved commercial from the ‘90s is brought to you in part by a U.S. federal court in Pennsylvania, which recently ruled against Runescape streamer Amro Elansari, who sued developer Jagex after the company muted him in the game last year, taking away his ability to communicate with other players. In a terse, largely handwritten lawsuit (via Vice), Elansari, who said he’d invested over 2,000 hours in the game, claimed that Jagex muting him constituted “violation of due process,” “discrimination,” and an attack on his “free speech” and “human rights.”

Initially, U.S. Eastern District Judge Mark A. Kearney dismissed the case. In July of 2019, Kearney wrote that “these allegations cannot state a plausible constitutional claim” because “the First Amendment and its constitutional free speech guarantees restrict government actors, not private entities.”

So, Elansari appealed. That also didn’t work out for him. Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit tossed the suit, taking aim at both Elansari’s first amendment claims and the idea that he’d been discriminated against “compared to all other players who were not muted.”

“Title II prohibits ‘discrimination… on the ground of race, colour, religion, or national origin,’” wrote the Court of Appeals. “Even generously construing Elansari’s complaint to raise a claim of public accommodations discrimination and assuming that Elansari can bring such a claim in this context, at no point either in the District Court or on appeal has Elansari alleged losing access to Jagex’s online game to due discrimination based on any grounds protected by Title II.”

The Eastern District Court has heard from Elansari a lot recently. He has filed ten suits in the past year and a half according to Pennlive, which first reported on the Jagex suit. In November of last year, the Court of Appeals similarly did away with a suit in which Elansari claimed he’d been scammed by Tinder. (Truly, who among us has not had a crappy date and taken it to the United States Court of Appeals? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, I say.)

Now, perhaps there is something worth interrogating when it comes to online platforms and the increasingly government-like role they can occupy. University of California Irvine School of Law special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye wrote in his 2019 book Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet that “today’s platform behemoths... have become institutions of governance, complete with generalized rules and bureaucratic features of enforcement. They have struggled to figure out how to police content at the scale to which they have grown. Often defensive, their business model involves acquiring user content and marketing what they learn about users to third-party advertisers. Their content policies, and their content policing, are nearly impossible to disentangle from their economic interests.”

Those economic interests, combined with a general lack of transparency, make for a less than ideal situation when it comes to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and the like. These platforms have taken on governmental roles, but without governmental oversights. Many games similarly function as platforms, albeit smaller ones. Games should absolutely moderate their communities, so as to prevent bad seeds from taking root and choking the life out of player bases, but there really needs to be a less opaque and perhaps more standardised process in place for doing so. Perhaps, by demanding such a thing, Elansari is just ahead of his time. But, more likely, he’s just incredibly bad at writing lawsuits, understanding law, and picking his battles. 


Comments

    Gawd, I used to cop the freedom of speech argument all the time for muting folks when I was an admin on a small fan MMO.

      It's alarming what people think constitutes free speech.

      A server is private property which has a terms of service... you sign away your rights to be moderated to a community standard.

      that is pretty funny, mute or ignore is great for video games and i prefer it to some stupid report/ban system that trolls can abuse at will.

      one thing i don't get is y trump isn't allowed to block people on twitter then, didn't the courts also make that decision?

        I haven't read that judgement, but I wonder if it's because Trump effectively IS the government (the executive branch of it, at least), so if he blocks you then it's the government restricting your freedom of speech? I think it might only be US citizens that he's not allowed to block?

        From what I recall it's because Trump uses his Twitter account to make announcements of policy, therefore making it a governmental platform by proxy. As such he can't block people because that would effectively be a government action, violating the First Amendment.

          Nobody who works for the government can at least not politicians, it's exactly as you said if they use their account to announce anything even slightly political or about policy everyone has to be able to see it and respond.

          Right. If Trump segregated his presidential tweets to his "POTUS" account and kept "realDonaldTrump" for personal tweets, he would be free to block whoever he wanted. It was his decision to mingle personal and official messages that has placed restrictions on what he can do with his personal account.

            surely if we are going to get trump to have 2 twitter accounts it should be one for him and one for the undead fox stapled on his head.

            @almightysparrow @germinalconsequence @braaains and jamesh thanks for your responses it makes perfect sense to me now.

              No worries, if you have time you should listen too the Joe Rogan podcast when he had the people from twitter on with Tim Pool it an eye opener.

        Sorry, replied to wrong post. delete or ignore me please

        Last edited 28/01/20 4:43 pm

      I used to admin the web forum of a well-known anime distributor and boy it was always funny pointing out that, as we weren't an American company, there was no constitutionally-protected freedom of speech and therefore you should go jump in a lake.

      And yes, we did occasionally get people threatening legal action because they got banned.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know why he was muted?

      Can't claim to know, but if I were to hazard an educated guess, I'd say it was probably because he was a prick.

        If that's all it was, there would be a hell of a lot more muting going on.

      He is a weed activist and was muted because he was spouting off in game about his activism. For obvious reasons he was banned.

    i should be happy that i can't see the usual SJW nonsense in a Nathan Grayson article but instead i'm concerned hes been body snatched..

      That name is ironic.

        the name is only ironic to you because you think poking fun at Nathans usual style is bullying.
        It has completely escaped you that Nathans usual shtick is bullying people, by the same weak standard so is pilling on a bunch of downvotes.

        To me bullying requires an imbalance of power in favor of the bully that is not the case here, or an intention to cause harm assuming you know the definition of harm a bitchy little comment doesn't constitute harm does it.

        this is the definition i found: seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable.

        don't diminish the word bully by using it to score points on the internet my dude, then again maybe you were just poking fun at me and didn't mean it literally it's hard to tell in text.

          Why are you bullying me into reading all that? God. What a bully.

            my apologies i didn't realise you could get triggered over a few paragraphs, TL:DR you don't know what the word means stop using it.

    You cannot be discriminated against for being a dick.

    Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Expression does not guarantee your right to be a dick.

    Don't be a dick.

      You seem to misunderstand what the 1st Amendment entails.

      Freedom of speech does indeed guarantee your right to be a dick. Want an example? Westboro baptist church. Want to know why they have never been sued? Because their actions are protected by the First Amendment.

      Freedom of speech does guarantee your right to be a dick, And the government cannot pass laws limiting your right to be a dick.

        Luckily I don't live in the USA, so the First Amendment doesn't affect me :)

          Your comment misunderstands what freedom of speech entails. Even outside the US. Freedom of speech is not just speech you agree with.

        I think what that poster means is that their freedom of speech (misused to be a dick) doesn't guarantee protection against the consequences for being a dick, such as getting muted in a private platform.

          Yeah the line:

          Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Expression does not guarantee your right to be a dick.

          Throws me off a little. Because freedom of speech does give you the right to be a dick. Wether we like it or not. As i demonstrated with the case of Westbro Baptists church.

            Fair enough. I probably should have included "everywhere".

            We have other instruments that regulate what you can get away with under the banner of Freedom of Speech.

            In Australia at least, Freedom of Speech or not, hate speech based on race, disability, religious or sexual preference is forbidden in public forums.

            The way in which this is dealt with, and the sanctions applied, vary from state to state.

              Yeah i get your point. More often that not people use "Freedom speech" as a method to shield themselves from criticism of their speech. Not realizing thats not what free speech actually entails.

    In July of 2019, Kearney wrote that “these allegations cannot state a plausible constitutional claim” because “the First Amendment and its constitutional free speech guarantees restrict government actors, not private entities.”This difference is something that a surprising number of Americans do not understand. The Title II violation claim is hilarious too given that Jagex is not a Common Carrier. It's also hilarious because Ajit Pai (That wily little so and so) already abolished Title II based Net Neutrality regarding ISPs and the internet so it's hard to justify it for a game served over the internet.

    Ah, the ole classic of people thinking that freedom of speech is also a magical consequence protecting force field.

      Ive always said that if your only defence of your statement is your right to say it you obviously don't value your statements that much.

    It somewhat shocks me that this is even newsworthy. Or that someone has been so desperate in this scenario, in which if they'd done a slight of research, would have perhaps realised their rights in the US weren't being violated...

    Oh well, people will be people.

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