Can privacy settings alone keep them safe? Mum Amber Petersen learned the answer the hard way.
Petersen’s 7-year-old daughter Brooklyn loved to play Roblox on her iPad. But because the mother of two knew the world’s number-one 3-D gaming site for kids allowed users to interact with strangers - they are called “friends” in the game - she was careful to to do all the right things to protect her daughter.
Are privacy settings alone enough to keep them safe?
She read the developer’s website thoroughly, and was comforted to learn the game offered 24-hour moderation to block inappropriate content. She made the effort to set her daughter’s account to the highest level of privacy, blocking conversations and invitation. And she monitored Brooklyn's play, sitting right beside her while she was online.
So you can imagine Petersen’s shock when, one afternoon recently, she glanced at the screen and saw her daughter’s avatar being sexually assaulted by three other players.
Petersen took screenshots and posted them to her Facebook page with a warning to other parents - where it quickly went viral.
I’m struggling with where to begin here because I’m feeling quite traumatized and violated on so many levels."
The 35-year-old former teacher wrote, “Words cannot describe the shock, disgust, and guilt that I am feeling right now, but I’m trying to put those feelings aside so I can get this warning out to others as soon as possible…
"Although I was immediately able to shield my daughter from seeing the entire interaction, I am shuddering to think of what kind of damage this image could have on her psyche, as well as any other child that could potentially be exposed to this.”
The moral of the story is NOT that Roblox is evil. On the contrary, Petersen herself has nothing but praise for how the company handled the incident - tracking down the the perpetrator and permanently banning him from the site.
Parents need to know there are thousands of user-generated games within the Roblox universe, some of them with sexual, violent or horror-related themes.
“Slender Man,” for example, displays bloody operating tables, while “Hotline Roblox” is a game in which players murder one another with knives and guns. Meanwhile, YouTube features literally thousands of videos showing Roblox porn - cartoon nudity, graphic sex and gang rape featuring Roblox avatars.
Many of these are taken down within minutes by the game’s moderators.
Petersen has objected strenuously to media reporting that vilified the Roblox Corporation, which is currently valued at US$2.4 billion and claims 64 million monthly users - many but by no means all of them children.
She is urging mums and dads to take a closer look at their kids’ security settings, to remember that monitoring their online activity is essential - and to encourage them to read books, which, she points out, are 100% hack-proof.
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