Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire has called out Steam and its owner Gabe Newell for the proliferation of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups on the platform. While the problem is not limited to Steam, it is the largest digital storefront for video games and also hosts numerous forums and community-created groups. Some of those groups use fascist imagery and post racist memes.
In a letter addressed to Newell, Sen. Hassan pointed to the extremist imagery on Steam and asked Newell about the platform’s moderation policies.
“Steam has a significant presence of users displaying and espousing neo-Nazi, extremist, racial supremacist, misogynistic, and other hateful sentiments,” the letter said. “[Steam owner] Valve should be taking steps to prevent harmful content, especially given the relationship between online comments and violence in the offline world.”
Extremist ideology in the gaming community is not new, and Steam’s groups specifically have long had a problem with celebrations of white nationalism, Nazis, and even school shooters. School shooter William Edward Atchison posted racist messages on Steam for years before killing two people and then himself in 2017. Steam also once hosted a community named after the accelerationist Atomwaffen Division that linked back to the group’s websites and videos.
The imagery and messages in these Steam groups are often in plain view. Straight references to white supremacist ideas is as common as ironic humor common in spaces where neo-Nazis are trying to mask their ideas. Hassan’s letter said she found a group that used symbols associated with the third Reich such as “photographs of, and references to, members of the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS organization; Emblems of Waffen-SS divisions involved in war crimes, including the infamous 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler.”
In other groups, Hassan found “plain and unambiguous references to the neo-Nazi term ‘88,’ referring to the letters HH, short for ‘Heil Hitler,’” and “the use of terms like ‘Blut and Ehre,’ a popular Nazi and neo-Nazi slogan, ‘Waffen-SS,’ ‘White Power,’ a white supremacist slogan, ‘Zyklon,’ an apparent reference to the pesticide gas used in Nazi extermination camps to carry out mass murder, and the use in combination of the numbers ‘14’ and ‘88,’ a reference to the white supremacist slogan ‘1488.’”
Hassan attached a sheet full of screenshots of some of the community groups and profiles that used this imagery and names. Some of the screenshots included URLs. Motherboard independently confirmed that these images are present in Steam’s community groups and found several other examples.
Valve did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Sen. Hassan is a senior member of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee and chairs the Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight subcommittee. Her letter asked Valve four questions and gave the company a deadline of January 15, 2023 to respond. She asked if the imagery violated Steam’s terms of service, what process Valve uses to moderate its forums and user generated content for “extremist, racist, antisemitic, gender-based harassment, homophobic” content, the process by which Valve responds to user complaints about said content, and if the company had a safety team that proactively monitored such activity.
“The rise of extremism and antisemitism in our democracy and around the world is horrible,” Sen. Hassan told Motherboard via email. “Online spaces can become a safeharbor for extremism and antisemitism to grow, organize, and manifest in violence. As a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee, I am committed to working on ways to stem hate and violence, and loosely-moderated online video game spaces have largely been able to evade oversight, which is why I am calling for answers from Valve.”
Companies typically respond to Congressional oversight letters and that answers from Valve could help inform Hassan and other lawmakers about how the video game industry plans to tackle extremism going forward. Valve runs the largest digital storefront, but the problem of extremist groups in online gaming does not begin and end with Steam.
Lawmakers and law enforcement have long turned a blind eye to white supremacy and racism in online gaming spaces. That’s been changing. In September, the DHS announced it would spend $700,000 to investigate “radicalization in gaming.” Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League published a study on the issue.