UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

June 24, 2008 -

The British government has released a six-point action plan which endorses the recommendations concerning the Internet and video games made by Dr. Tanya Byron (left) earlier this year.

Referring to Byron's work as "groundbreaking", the document says that the government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has accepted all of the child psychiatrist's recommendations. While the first four chapters of the action plan address how children relate to the Internet, the final two sections discuss how Byron's recommendations regarding video games are to be implemented.

Chapter 5, Reforming the video games classification system, notes that Byron called for a hybrid content rating system involving both the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) and the Pan-European Game Information (PEGI) ratings. Byron's recommendation has generated some controversy in the UK, where the game industry strongly favors PEGI. It was the BBFC, GamePolitics readers may recall, which banned Manhunt 2 in 2007 before being overruled by England's High Court.

As it turns out, the government is delaying its decision in this regard. Instead, it will "launch a four month public consultation" beginning in July. Following this review, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will publish its plan for reforming game ratings by early next year. DMCS will also work with game rating organizations to "agree to a way forward for classifying online gaming."

Chapter 6 outlines a number of steps, including:

  • raising parental awareness about video game ratings
  • setting standards for providing ratings information at point-of-sale
  • setting standards for parental controls by November
  • setting advertising guidelines for games

GP: Overall, the action plan generates no shockwaves. The key question involving who will rate games for the UK market - PEGI, BBFC, or both - remains unresolved for now.

Get your own copy of the UK government's action plan here.


Comments

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Honestly - I don't see the problem with things as they are. The only issue seems to be that ratings are properly enforced, especially at the point of sale, otherwise the whole system is undermined. Personally, I prefer the BBFC (despite its take on MH2 - which, as pointed out, was rectified by the VAC and, in my opinion, was merely a source of good debate over the "limits" to which a violent game might go), we could do a lot worse (Germany, Australia etc...).

Anyone interested in an inside look at the BBFC and games should check out The Gamespot Uk Podcast for 17/01/08, when they interviewed a games reviewer.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Because watch dogs and the media are still thinking games are for children. So games will keep being censored if they are for an adult audience.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

I would like the AO rating to be used and stop with censorship with the ESRB.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

While I agree with the sentiment, and see no reason such AO games couldn't be released with restrictions like any other such rated media in the US, It's not relevent to the UK.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

With all this discussion about the BBFC and PEGI, I don't know what game developers think about the ESRB. I am very happy with the ESRB and hope it stays that way.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

 "England's High Court"

Bzzzt. False. The High Court has power over the whole of the United Kingdom, not just England. 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

<pedant mode>

The High Court concerned only has jurisdiction in England & Wales. There are separate courts for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

<\pedant mode>

I know that was petty but I worry about these things during the exam season.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

" readers may recall, which banned Manhunt 2 in 2007 before being overruled by England's High Court."

I think you mean the Video appeals committee. The courts asked the VAC to reconsider their decision to overturn the BBFC ban, but that was all.

Gift.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

PEGI does not censor and ban video games like the BBFC does. PEGI allows adults to play games no matter how violent they are. BBFC bans adults from playing some games to save them and the children.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Actually, no game has ever been banned in the UK.

Not once.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Apart from Carmageddon and Manhunt 2. Neither of those got much media coverage, though, to be fair.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

If this were QI, a big buzzer would have sounded and the screen behind you would be flashing.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

No it wouldn't, as they don't do that for right answers :P

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

WRONG!

Neither were banned as the decisions were appealed successfully via the VAC.  It would be like saying someone is guilty because they were charged with a crime rather than convicted.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

WRONG!

They were both banned first, then their decisions were appealed successfully- although in the case of Carmageddon, the original version remained banned for some time, as it was a modified version that was released initially.

To use your analogy, this is someone being found guilty, then jailed, before more evidence came to light later leading to an acquittal and subsequent release.

They're not jailed now, but that does not mean they were never jailed.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

They were refused classification, a decision that was overturned on appeal.  They are not "banned", they are just not allowed to be sold within the UK.  It's an important distinction that needs making, even if you think it is quibbling over words.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Okay. You are right. The BBFC cannot ban a game. They can only refuse to classify it. It is the government that has chosen to ban games that don't have a BBFC classification.

E. Zachary Knight
www.editorialgames.com
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA Myspace Page

 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Absolutely right. Even a ban lasting a day, is still a ban. Just because it is no longer banned, does not mean that they no longer count.

E. Zachary Knight
www.editorialgames.com
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA Myspace Page

 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Ban     –noun.  The act of prohibiting by law; interdiction.

Alas there is no direct definition of "refused classification".  Infact one might even suggest that the process of classification is included in appeals and thus a final decision was not made until after this appeal.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

The stating that a game cannot be sold legally within the country without a rating is not a ban?

you are playing on slight variations on meaning here.

E. Zachary Knight
www.editorialgames.com
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA Myspace Page

 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

ANOTHER public consultation?!

Jesus Christ Gordon, grow some balls and make a decision.

BBFC > PEGI btw.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

I hope PEGI is put as the offical rater.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Same. The MH2 issue still shows they're not fit to rate games. The BBFC should stick to what they were founded for.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

They were founded to rate media.  That falls under their remit.  You can't say they aren't qualified because they were created at the turn of the 20th Century instead of the last decade.  You're basically saying they shouldn't rate games BECAUSE they have a huge amount of experience... thats bafflingly silly.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

I'm saying they aren't qualified because they've messed up one too many times, and there is another group (PEGI) better suited to take on their role, even if said role is nowadays obsolete.

And if they were founded to rate media, why do they not rate books, television or music? For that matter, what does the "F" in their acronym stand for?

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Anybody can argue semantics, but that's not worth dwelling on.

How is the rating of games obsolete? Parents have every right to know at a glance the kind of content they may be purhasing for their chidlren, Surely you're not suggesting getting rid of ratings altogether?

PEGI may well be better suited for rating games for Europe - but how can you stipulate that they're better at rating games for a UK audience, taking British tastes and perspectruives into accouint, than the BBFC - a local organisation? Would US citizens be so keen on having theirr games rated by a Pan-American ratings body, I wonder?

Lastly, I fail to see how the BBFC habve messed up "one too many times" when in both the Carmageddon 2 and Manhunt 2 instances, no penalty was levied against selling either game.

If the BBFC had cracked dwon on GTA IV< Resident Evil 4 or Condemned 2, then we'd be worried. Butb they haven't. Both vases were isolated instances, probably brought about by the media furore that had surrounded Carmageddon 1 and Manhunt 1 respectively. Either way, I'd still much rather trust their ratings than a rationgs board set-up and funded by the big publishers themselves.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Can you explain how they have messed up please?  This is a system to be taken as a whole, not a half.  The VAC was put in place to give the gaming industry a means of appeal to any decisions for which there was a disagreement.  So far there has been no "mess ups".

Your assertion that PEGI, a group who do not even play the games they 'rate', are "better suited" to take on the role is to my mind laughable.  As for suggesting that the role is "obsolete", what planet are you living on at the moment exactly?  There are politicians everywhere looking to score brownie points with over the top legislation at the moment.   A system which rates games fairly and adequately is entirely needed as a shield from these idiots.

"And if they were founded to rate media, why do they not rate books, television or music? For that matter, what does the "F" in their acronym stand for?"

So because they used to rate Videos, does that mean they are not qualified to rate DVDs because they have only been around recently?  Your argument stinks.  As for books, TV and music, they have someone else to deal with such things.  That doesn't mean the BBFC COULDN'T expand and employ people to do such a job under it's umbrella, but it doesn't.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

If the BBFC weren't fit to rate games, don't you think all of the UK posters here would be cheering for their dismissal and only to eager to ditch them in favour of PEGI? In fact, it seems to me that the people who are most anti-BBFC are the ones that don't have to abide by their decisions, and the ones that are most pro-BBFC do.

What does that tell you?

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Why? They're not independent and don't play the games they rate.

Also, people in the UK are more familiar with the BBFC ratings logos as they're on all movies, DVDs and most games already, making these ratings a more effective tool for parents than PEGI's, whose symbols are overwhelmiongly mistaken for a difficulty rating.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

I'll play devil's advocate here:

"They're not independent"

The BBFC isn't truly independent either as it is funded through fees paid by the games/film they rate. Moreover, the BBFC seems worryingly happy to listen to tabloid newspapers when coming to its supposedly objective conclusions: news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/2165931.stm.

"[They] don't play the games they rate"

As the ratings are submitted by the developers who know exactly what is in the game, why would their be a need for play testing?

"people in the UK are more familiar with the BBFC ratings logos"

I'll concede that point but not this:

"PEGI's, whose symbols are overwhelmiongly mistaken for a difficulty rating."

Overwhelmingly? I know there has been some suggestion that there is confusion over the age rating symbol but I've not seen data to show this occurs in the majority of cases let alone overwhelmingly.

Gift.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

"The BBFC isn't truly independent either as it is funded through fees paid by the games/film they rate. Moreover, the BBFC seems worryingly happy to listen to tabloid newspapers when coming to its supposedly objective conclusions"

But they ARE independant from Government, which is what more people would complain about.  The fact that it is funded by the industry they review for seems much fairer than the perception of political interference by it being funded publically via the Tax-payer.

"As the ratings are submitted by the developers who know exactly what is in the game, why would their be a need for play testing?"

It's the perception of integrity and transparency.  After the GTA fiasco, there is a need for the industry to be seen to do more than say "trust us".

"Overwhelmingly? I know there has been some suggestion that there is confusion over the age rating symbol but I've not seen data to show this occurs in the majority of cases let alone overwhelmingly."

I'd probably agree here, though the symbols are NOT obvious at first glance and only have a website to reference them and not any text based explaination.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

The BBFC is about as independent from the government as my foot is from my knee.

The BBFC, while formed by the film industry, has been given its role by the government. Under the Video Recording Act Of (ironically) 1984, the DCMS- part of the government- selects an authority to give ratings to film. The government are welcome at any time to discard the BBFC and select another group. The BBFC relies on keeping the government sweet lest they get replaced by another authority who pleases them better. As well as that the government enforce the law making it illegal to sell a non-BBFC-classified work in the UK, assuring the board's income, and it is the government who enforce the law making it illegal to sell a rated work to someone below the age the rating concerns.

This is a world away from the truly independent MPAA or ESRB, neither of whom have their ratings mandated or enforced by the government.

Of course, this gives us the problem of PEGI no longer being independent of the government either if it is selected as the de facto games ratings board, but that's another discussion.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Yes, but neither the ESRB and PEGI are independent from videogames industry stakeholders - in fact, they're entirely beholden to the majopr players. As such, it goes some way to disqualifying them from being able to rate games impartially and without publisher interference.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

There is certainly some truth in this statement.  I suppose that this could also apply to the BBFC as "The Board ... is financed from the fees it charges for classifying films and videos and is run on a not-for-profit basis".  Ofcourse, the fact that they HAVE to be rated by the BBFC means that there is no onus on the BBFC to appease anyone within the industry.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

"The BBFC is about as independent from the government as my foot is from my knee."

I suggest you consult a doctor then

"The BBFC relies on keeping the government sweet lest they get replaced by another authority who pleases them better."

Pure speculation on your part and not at all factual.  Baseless lies will get you nowhere in an argument.

"As well as that the government enforce the law making it illegal to sell a non-BBFC-classified work in the UK, assuring the board's income, and it is the government who enforce the law making it illegal to sell a rated work to someone below the age the rating concerns."

No, the POLICE enforce the law.

"This is a world away from the truly independent MPAA or ESRB, neither of whom have their ratings mandated or enforced by the government."

Horses for courses.  You have the FCC who go overboard with what can and cant be shown/heard on your TV or Radio stations.  We have a rater for Movies, DVDs, Games and Videos.  In the UK, the decision to go down this route was taken decades ago and is not even remotely controversial.

"Of course, this gives us the problem of PEGI no longer being independent of the government either if it is selected as the de facto games ratings board, but that's another discussion."

Maybe in your little world of what you consider to be independant.  However that world doesn't conform to reality.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

You trying to claim the Police and the government are seperate is pretty laughable. The Police is has government oversite. Unless the UK has privatized their law enforcement, they are not independant of the government. They have been charged by the government to enforce laws that the government has written. So the government is still enforcing their laws, they are just doing so with the help of the police.

As for you claim that the BBFC is independant, they may not have been formed by the government nor are they directly controlled by the government. But if there ever came a time when the BBFC ticks the government off enough, the government has the authority to tell them to sod off and the government can simply choose another organization to rate games.

The BBFC has an incentive in the form of their livelyhood to keep the government happy.

As for you comparison with the BBFC and the FCC, WRONG. The FCC was organized to oversee the public airwaves. They have never been given the chrge to oversee, private distribution. Games and movies are not public utilities. They are private enterprises. They have oversight from the FTC (note they are different from teh FCC) from business stand point but not public utility stand point.

The main difference here is that the public airwaves of tv and radio are mostly involuntary. You may choose the channel but you are not choosing the content, especially when it is live. So the FCC has some interest there. But with movies and games, the person is actively choosing the content.

Now Beemoh's comaprison of the BBFC/Government to his foot/knee, was a little off. It is more of BBFC/Government to Hammer/Hand. At any time the hand can discard the hammer and pick up another tool to replace it.

I need to add that the Police is independant in much the same way. If the government ever decided that the current police force were not effective enough, they could switch law enforcement responsibilities to some other organization. The likely hood of such a move is very unlikely however. 

E. Zachary Knight
www.editorialgames.com
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA Myspace Page

 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

You seem not to understand no matter how slowly I speak or how many pictures I use.  Just give up.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

No. I think we just have very differnet understandings of what it means to be independant of the government.

I understand it to mean that the government has no say in how the organization is run or whether it exists.

You seem to think it means not being an official body of the government.

E. Zachary Knight
www.editorialgames.com
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA Myspace Page

 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

 

That does appear to be the core of the disagreement, but it is a false dicotomy.

No body playing such a role can be truely independant of the State and Govt, otherwise they have no authority or influence and would be, therefore, worthless.

The BBFC are independant, in the sense that they have the power to take decisions without direct Govt influence. That in European regulatory parlance makes them an independant regulator. But, however, they rely on State power, through legilsation, to give them authority which they rely on to ensure complience with their decisions. The quid-pro-quo for the grant of that State power is that they are obliged to enforce standards set out by the State. Note that I am using the term 'State' here because the standards are not set by Govt, but by Parliament. Generally this is known as 'co-regulation' as it is part state, part industry.

Classic self regulation, with industry bodies such as PEGI, ESRB and MPAA, has less direct State, or Govt, influence, but it is not free of any influence. Look how closely the ESRB works with State Govts in the US to seek to give it the trappings of accountability and infuence. Largely to try and protect itself from attempts to impose State level regulation. But the influences on self regulatory bodies are often more difficult and less obvious. The inflence of entrenched and vested interest in bodies like the MPAA is well known. Why are religous groups given some much power? Who holds the MPAA accountable for its decisions? One only has to look at the ESRB's reaction to Hot Coffee and the naked Oblivion patches to see that they are not free of poltical and media influence - it is simply not institutionalsied.

Neither model is perfect, both have their strengths and weakness. I know which I think works best in UK media regulation.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Just for the record, good response.  Whether you ultimately fall down on the side of BBFC or PEGI, your comment is holds much truth.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

That has been my argument for a long time. Yet everyone still maintains that the BBFC is independant of the government.

E. Zachary Knight
www.editorialgames.com
Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA Myspace Page

 

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Thats because it is.  There's only a handful of US citizens that proliferate these forums that appear to not understand this.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

"But they ARE independant from Government"

Certainly, well sort of (I won't argue the toss ;) ). I'm just saying that in this context if industry funding is something PEGI can be criticised for then it's potentially applicable to the BBFC as well.

"After the GTA fiasco, there is a need for the industry to be seen to do more than say "trust us"."

While I agree that "trust us" isn't very reassuring, it is in industry's best interests to be open and fair IMO. I'd hesitate to characterise the whole industry based on the actions of R* and consequently dismiss PEGI out of hand. Furthermore, self regulation isn't altogether unheard of. For example the GMC, with government consent, has been regulating the medical profession for an awfully long time. I'll admit that the GMC doesn't have an immaculate record, but each time there's a problem changes are made and consequently medics retain responsibility for certifying their own profession.

While I'm on the subject though, I really don't see what the problem with incidents like hot coffee was; it wasn't finished game material it wasn't meant to be played. I'm uneasy about this drive to rate material even if it isn't normally accessable in game. Plus, I feel there's a certain amount of demonisation going on in the wider media concerning R* and sadly it's a bad boy image they are happy to play up to, but I'm not sure it makes them dishonest.

"I'd probably agree here, though the symbols are NOT obvious at first glance and only have a website to reference them and not any text based explaination."

I won't argue with you there, some of the symbols are esoteric to say the least but I feel that could be remedied by educating parents/players. PEGI is still a viable system, maybe not needed in the UK but I think it's still a reasonable alternative.

Gift.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

"Furthermore, self regulation isn't altogether unheard of."

But it is in the UK as far as media ratings go.  Trying to change that age old history is nigh on impossible.  The question of using PEGI would mean enforcing the PEGI ratings instead of enforcing the BBFC ratings.  There's zero chance of the Government allowing PEGI to rate games and not giving it the force of law.

I think we agree mostly with one another here though, yes? :)

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

"I think we agree mostly with one another here though, yes? :)"

Mostly. ;) I prefer PEGI but like I said I'm playing devil's advocate here. I don't think it's such a bad system, especially for those of us who object strongly to censorship cf. classification.

Gift.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Fair points, but one:

"the ratings are submitted by the developers who know exactly what is in the game"

Actually, the ratings are not submitted by the developer, but rather by the publisher, who more often than not think they know more about a particular game than they actually do - see Take 2's realtionship with Rockstar for one dramatic example.

Also, I can;t see an example of a tabloid newspaper in that link... unless you're calling the BBC a tabloid newspaper (which would be wring on both counts, obvs).

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

"Actually, the ratings are not submitted by the developer, but rather by the publisher, who more often than not think they know more about a particular game than they actually do"

I don't think that's entirely fair, T2 and R* are particularly a particularly turbulent coupling. While I take your point about the publisher on board, in the context of PEGI, they are still told by the developers what the game content is when submitting a rating.

"Also, I can;t see an example of a tabloid newspaper in that link... unless you're calling the BBC a tabloid newspaper (which would be wring on both counts, obvs)."

Sorry my bad, if you read down I'm referring to this section:

"Asked how he would respond to a media fuss about a film, Sir Quentin said: "It is part of the evidence that the board must take into account, if there is a sense that the papers are reflecting public concerns.

"But I don't mean there is a sort of Pavlovian response every time there is a fuss in Parliament or the press. This is an issue upon which everyone has a view."

He also said the board's view would not be "on a par with somebody on the number 24 bus or a taxi driver"."

Gift.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Seems to me the DCMS could be stalling for time until gaming becomes a ploitical hot-topic again and allows the Labour party to score some points with the electorate.

So long as they follow the advice of the good Doctor, though, I'm pretty sure nothing too bad would happen.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

If they do this well and don't go overboard (see: Surveilance Camera stuff going on there) then yeah, they're really taking a step in the right direction.  I, for one, am glad to see this.  Parents do need to be aware of whats in games.  Parental controls are necessary (even though in most ways they already exist).  And yes, I think there needs to be some sort of guideline on what can be in an advertisment for a game.

However, my fear lies in this...Raising parental awareness could be like the GTA or Mass Effect scares, having people shout over and over about the evils of these games.  Do they have elements that only mature audiences should play?  Yes, but age is not maturity.  I hit the level that I was mature enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality years before I was old enough to buy an M rated game on my own.  In fact, my parent's bought me GTA3 but would sit and watch me play, taking time to explain that it was simply for entertainment sake and to not take it in any form of reality.  I never did.

Another thing that I worry about is that they're talking about standards being set in some ways that already exist.  Ratings are provided (I'm pretty sure in the UK as well) very openly.  There is no confusion, it explains it straight out.  Also, parental controls exist, and do pretty well from what I've seen.  As for advertising guidelines, I think it depends on the time and the content of the game.  If the ad itself (not the game) would only recieve a pg-13 rating here in the US, then thats fine for certain times of TV, and on certain channels.  Mass Effect is a great example.  If you watch Mass Effect's commercial, it shows very well how an M rated game can be advertised with no issues.  So if they judge the advert on it's own content, and not the content of the game, I'm fine.

This leaves alot of doors open, and what's inside could be good...or bad.  We don't know and it's way too early to tell.  I want to see how this pans out though.

Re: UK Government Releases Action Plan Based on Byron Report

Its funny that we need legislation that in essence is comman sense, and tells people to stop being retarded. Well if it works I guess...

 
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