Researchers from Middlesex University and the University of East London will investigate the threats to children in the Metaverse.
Dr Elena Martellozzo from MDX and Professor Julia Davidson, OBE, from UEL, will receive £90,711 in funding from the UK Research and Innovation REPHRAIN Fund.
They will be working alongside Childnet and Kabuni, an organisation set up by Co-Founder and Head of Metaverse Research, Nina Jane Patel, after her experience of the potential risks that young people face while navigating the Metaverse.
The research will focus on children aged 10-14 years-old, including vulnerable children, and will inform practice and policy on developing safe, educational Metaverses for children.
Experts in criminology and psychology, Paula Bradbury, Ruby Farr and Boglarka Meggyesfalvi, will also be involved in the pilot study.
Elena, Paula and Boglarka are part of the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) at Middlesex University.
The research will employ a tech industry and practice /policy panel.
A video will also be produced with collaborators advising on safety for tech companies, parents, schools and other online safety education awareness groups.
Dr Martellozzo, an Associate Professor of Criminology at MDX, said: “The Metaverse is the future of social interaction, and it is allowing children and adults to enter fascinating worlds. With it, however, there are risks which this study will address.”
Prof Davidson said, “The Metaverse brings with it a lot of positive features for children and young people’s cognitive, social and emotional development, but also an increased opportunity for exposure to online grooming and other forms of child sexual abuse.
“Metaverse platforms are being used by children to interact with strangers online. We are already seeing instances of child abuse and meta-apps have reported experiencing daily challenges in tackling grooming, cyberbullying and suicide ideation. Online sex offenders are known to use online 2D Metaverse platforms to lure children into encrypted chat apps.”
The Metaverse is a term originally coined in the science fiction novel Snow Crash in which humans, as avatars, interact with each other virtually. In the Metaverse, the internet becomes a single and universal virtual world which can be accessed by virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.
Currently, the Metaverse has more than 400 million active users each month.
Find out more about the work of CATS.