Virtual Landscapes Treacherous Terrain for Children

March 7, 2022

Society was not ready. Despite decades of science fiction that predicted the seedy side of the metaverse, those making it a reality are failing to protect minors who wander into its dark corners. BBC News reports, “Metaverse App Allows Kids into Virtual Strip Clubs.” Reporters Angus Crawford and Tony Smith describe the disturbing visit a BBC researcher made to one of those dives. They write:

“A researcher posing as a 13-year-old girl witnessed grooming, sexual material, racist insults and a rape threat in the virtual-reality world. The children’s charity [the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children] said it was ‘shocked and angry’ at the findings. Head of online child safety policy Andy Burrows added the investigation had found ‘a toxic combination of risks’. The BBC News researcher – using an app with a minimum age rating of 13 – visited virtual-reality rooms where avatars were simulating sex. She was shown sex toys and condoms, and approached by numerous adult men.”

The post shares both a video of the researcher describing the experience and her written summary, so navigate there for her alarming account. It is even more disturbing to learn actual children, not just undercover researchers, are confirmed to be subjected to these experiences. We learn:

“BBC News also spoke to a safety campaigner who has spent months investigating VRChat and who now posts his videos on YouTube. He has spoken to children who say they were groomed on the platform and forced to take part in virtual sex. … The safety campaigner explained because VR is so immersive, children actually have to act out sexual movements.”

We also have this distressing detail from Limina Immersive owner Catherine Allen, who was researching virtual reality experiences:

“She described one incident in a Meta-owned app where she encountered a seven-year-old girl. A group of men surrounded them both and joked about raping them. Ms Allen said she had to step between the men and the child to protect her. ‘I shouldn’t have had to do that, but that’s because there’s no moderation, or apparently very little moderation.’”

Some may downplay this problem because it is not “real life,” but the purpose of VR is to make things a realistic as possible. Especially for children, the distinction can be merely academic; the trauma is no doubt real. The write-up criticizes Facebook for making unregulated third-party content available through its Meta Quest app store with absolutely no age verification required. Zuckbook points out it provides tools that allow players to block other users but, considering the risks, that is too little too late. The article suggests parents check what VR apps their kids are using and test drive them for themselves. We also receive this helpful tip:

“Many apps allow users to simultaneously ‘cast’ their experience to a phone or laptop, so a parent can watch what’s going on at the same time as their child plays.”

It is up to parents to be vigilant, since those providing access to the metaverse are more interested in profits than in our children’s safety.

Cynthia Murrell, March 7, 2022


One Response to “Virtual Landscapes Treacherous Terrain for Children”

  1. Facebook Defines Excellence: Also Participated? : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search on April 5th, 2022 5:05 am

    […] prefer to focus on the Metaverse, their latest shiny object, though that path is also fraught with collateral damage. Is Meta too big for anyone to hold it […]

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta