You may have seen the story, or ensuing internet outrage, about Sony’s PSN banning of a 26 year old man named Jihad. He posted his story to the PS4 subreddit, and it gained thousands of comments in under a day. Outlets from Kotaku to Forbes covered his story, and ultimately Jihad, formerly on PSN as iJihad, had his purchases moved to a new account.
There are a couple obvious factors here that I need to recap. First, the man’s given name is actually Jihad. He provided an image of his passport on his reddit post to back this claim up. The name is apparently not all that uncommon. But secondly, jihad is a term widely associated with Islamist terrorism.
You don’t have to look very hard to find people decrying Sony’s ban as racist or bigoted. I don’t fault people for being upset over Sony’s handling of this situation, but many are angry for the wrong reasons.
Sony’s house, Sony’s rules
I’ve seen numerous posts making remarks like “I hope Sony doesn’t decide my name is offensive in the future and steal all my purchases.” The problem with this criticism is that Sony can decide to ban any words they want on their platform. If Sony wants to ban usernames containing the words “ice cream,” that’s completely within their rights. We, as users, have the ultimate power to refuse financial support of Sony.
There is no freedom of speech issue here. Sony is not the American government. It is not racist to ban a word that is commonly associated with terrorism. Having the name Jihad does not exempt a person from Sony’s desire to ban the term jihad from usernames. If you legally changed your name to a four-letter expletive, do you think Sony would be wrong to prevent you from using your new legal name on PSN? Make no mistake, it is hugely unfortunate for the anybody affected like Jihad was here, and Sony should make a good faith effort to help anybody transition to new names. Sony can’t help when words’ common meanings change. The swastika used to be a symbol associated with good luck and success before it was co-opted by the Nazis. Nobody in their right mind would use that symbol today and try to argue that it’s true meaning is luck and success. Choosing to ban iJihad because of the terrorist use of jihad is not at all where Sony screwed up.
Botched public relations
Naturally Jihad contacted Sony to find out why he was suddenly banned, after holding his account for years. A support representative responded, offering to change his PSN username. The rep warned that this may carry consequences, such as “may experience problems with trophies.” Though disappointed, Jihad accepted a name change. A few days passed with no movement on this, so he followed up. This time another rep responded telling him the ban is permanent, essentially undoing the previous offer of a name change.
The renege here is in very bad form. Clearly Sony had the method in place to rectify the situation, but another employee decided using jihad in a name was so utterly offensive that the purchases would be lost. It seems like receiving the appropriate amount of help comes down to random luck based solely on what employee happens to see your support ticket. This is true for many businesses
Things to fix
This debacle has highlighted a number of things Sony should fix.
- If you want to ban a term from PSN names, put it in a filter so people can’t create a name with the word in it that you will retroactively ban for later.
- If you offer a solution to a disagreement with one of your customers, and that customer accepts the solution, you cannot go around backtracking these solutions. If you offer a name change, you need to deliver
- If you can perform name changes, you need to make that available to everyone. If the consequences are losing friend lists and trophies, you can simply make that abundantly clear and something that must be agreed to before letting a player change their name.
Solely because his story blew up, Sony took corrective action and Jihad now has a new name on PSN, and his purchases are linked to this new account. However, all friends, messages, and trophies cannot be transferred. This is absurd for 2016. Figuring out a way to enable name changes, or at the very least offering the ability to have a display name that differs from your account name, should be among the top priorities for PSN development. A name change system would allow Sony to simply alter usernames rather than lock players out of their accounts. They could have changed iJihad to SonyPSNplayer1940389 and informed him to choose a name that doesn’t include any banned terms. Whether the rest of the internet thinks the reasoning is unjustified (spoiler alert, that will always be the case), changing the name to something generic immediately and allowing the user to choose a new name will catch a lot less flak than banning with no recourse. This whole thing has made me wonder how many people have had similar things happen who didn’t scream as loudly as possible on social media and ended up losing years worth of purchases.