Access Now, one of the leading digital rights organizations, penned an open letter on October 11th, 2019 on their official website, and accused Blizzard of committing human rights abuses. Unlike prior accusations, this one carries significantly greater credence in the public eye as it has been issued by an international rights organization with connections to government bodies, tech companies, and the United Nations. Blizzard is highly unlikely to be able to dismiss this accusation as the opinion of another institution and quietly wait for it to blow over, as has been their tactic in-between producing statements comprised of obvious deceptions.
Access Now isn’t a nobody organization, they have been at the forefront of fighting for digital rights in the United States, EU, and abroad. The organization hosts a “Digital Security Helpline” that provides assistance and information to activists around the world. Each year the organization holds Rightscon, a human rights conference sponsored by a bevy of corporations including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Reddit, Verizon and numerous others, including many less reputable institutions like Open Society. Beyond corporations, the event has the backing of government bodies from the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada.
In the letter they describe themselves as:
“Access Now is a global organization working to defend and extend the rights of users at risk. We promote the right to freely express oneself, a human right enshrined in international law. In the digital age, the providers and platforms that deliver access to networks, applications, and services enable realization of free expression and other human rights. With this power, these companies retain a particular responsibility to respect and promote our rights.”
Suffice to say this is not an organization whose accusations can be dismissed or won’t be taken seriously by the global community. Backing their assertion, Blizzard’s actions quantifies as human rights abuse; the organization cites the United Nations Call that reiterated people’s right to freedom of expression. Quoting the United Nations while earlier stating Blizzard is no exception and has a responsibility as a major platform to respect human rights.
“Blizzard is no exception. As a major online gaming and user communications platform, Blizzard has a duty to respect human rights in its operations.”
“….ensure that the right of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected.”
Speaking directly to the issue, Blizzard is rightfully busted for intentionally having vague rules that they can arbitrarily enforce as they see fit for whom they see fit. Though not cited in the letter, the perfect example of the American University team for holding up signs that read: “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard” and faced zero repercussions. Later the team, in solidarity with blitzchung, went on to forfeit their next match and season claiming “it is hypocritical for Blizzard to punish blitzchung but not them.” Clearly the rules are being enforced as Blizzard decides and not based on any standards.
in tonight’s Collegiate Hearthstone championship, American University held up a “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard” during the broadcast, which was quickly cut away by Blizzard pic.twitter.com/Y9eXtLfuGw
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 9, 2019
Blizzard/TeSPA has decided not to penalize American University for holding up their sign and has scheduled their next match, but AU has decided to forfeit the match and the season, saying it is hypocritical for Blizzard to punish blitzchung but not them https://t.co/HHHeSJdPcH
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 10, 2019
“” Such wide discretion facilitates arbitrary implementation of what appear to be intentionally vague policies. By penalizing a player for speaking up in support of protesters exercising their right to freedom of expression as well as assembly and association, Blizzard demonstrates a lack of respect for the human rights of its users.”
The letter did not stop at formally accusing Blizzard of committing human rights abuses; it goes on to make several demands of the company to remedy the situation. For blitzchung and the casters simple reinstatement and a full reversal is not enough. Restitution is called for and appear to be the standard the community has been looking for as to what should be expected of Blizzard.
“In support of the right to freedom of expression, we urge you to reverse the penalties Blizzard imposed on the player and stream casters, and to provide restitution. ”
Anyone following any controversies in gaming will know how companies keep their rules intentionally vague as to be able to selectively enforce them when and how they see fit. Now a human rights organization has called Blizzard out on this practice demanding clarification and answers to questions into their operations.
In addition, and in the understanding that our civil society organization and others support your ongoing efforts to meet your corporate responsibility, we ask you to clarify Blizzard’s policies, 11 OCTOBER 2019 including how Blizzard determines when and whether to exercise its discretion. Please answer these questions:
Does Blizzard commit to respect the freedom of expression of its stakeholders, including players and stream casters?
What oversight does Blizzard’s leadership exercise over how the company’s policies and practices impact players’ freedom of expression and other human rights?
Who is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the Competition Rules?
What procedures do Blizzard employees follow in determining whether its rules have been violated?
What channels are available to stakeholders, including players, to appeal determinations and comment on the Competition Rules?
The letter concludes with the sentiment that Access Now looks forward to their reply. After direct questions that gamers have been wanting to know for years not just of Blizzard but other institutions such as Twitch, Social Media Companies, Youtube and numerous other video game companies, it is a sentiment the entire community should share.
As the industry buddied with big and foreign money, delving into political connections where it had previously stood without partisanship and gamer focused, the industry has gradually become worse and more unrecognizable. Gradually they have left few lines uncrossed and regulators have taken notice. While the industry is under a microscope, Blizzard exposed to the world the level at which the industry was selling out any moral standards and human rights for Chinese money. How far Tencent had stretched its reach into numerous companies, a topic that was previously shunned, is now openly discussed.
Blizzard will likely continue to fight this. What will unfold now is up to time to reveal, but one has to wonder how long until China aims to distance themselves from the fiasco to protect themselves in upcoming trade negotiations and their Olympic 2022 prospects?