Instead of blaming tech companies for exposing children to harmful content in the virtual universe, we should consider the role of other stakeholders as well.
Recently, the BBC’s investigative reporter played a 13-year-old girl to participate in VRChat. This is an online virtual platform where users can interact with each other through 3D avatars through virtual reality (VR) enabled devices.
|Children exposed to harmful content in the virtual universe, who to blame?|
Rooms on VRChat contain many harmful content related to pornography, racism and threats of rape. BBC reporters witnessed many nude avatars and were approached by many adult men, lured into engaging in virtual reality sex acts.
The investigation has prompted child safety charities including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) to warn about the dangers minors face. face when joining the virtual universe (metaverse).
The NSPCC seems to blame tech companies entirely, arguing that they need to do more to protect children’s safety in online spaces. This is true but not enough because social media platforms cannot solve this problem alone.
Many people were shocked to read the story on the BBC, but ten years ago, when the term “metaverse” was still unpopular, similar cases appeared on platforms such as Club Penguin and Habbo Hotel. Asking tech companies to come up with more solutions to prevent incidents like this has been around for a long time, but not much has changed.
Companies often require age verification to prevent young people from accessing inappropriate services. However, if this were easy, it would be widely adopted. In fact, validating the age of users on the network bypasses data privacy concerns and is easy to implement across platforms.
In addition, censorship of chat content on applications cannot rely on algorithms alone. Artificial intelligence (AI) is not smart enough to monitor and prevent conversations that violate communication policies. Although control can be manipulated by humans, it is often not enough time and manpower to monitor them all.
In addition, platforms already provide a variety of tools to address harassment and abuse, which are not yet universal or many people do not believe they will be effective or simply do not want to use them.
Parents can’t just sit back and complain, “My kids are being affected by bad content online, who’s going to stop this?”. Instead of just blaming tech companies, we should consider the role of other stakeholders.
If parents intend to buy their child a VR device, they also need to be responsible for ensuring the safety of their child’s use. Parents can monitor the activity by asking their child to project the above content from the VR headset onto the TV or laptop. Or, check the apps and games your kids are interacting with before allowing them to use them.
We all have a role to play in supporting young people as they enter online spaces. Teens need to receive education and support from adults in dealing with the harms they may face online. This is not something that technology platforms can do unilaterally.
Huong Dung(According to The Conversation)
Children face harmful content in the virtual universe
Applications belonging to the virtual universe platform (metaverse) can bring many toxic experiences that affect children if left unchecked.