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New videos teach children how to be safe in the Metaverse

09/02/2024
The videos are part of a large project tackling child safety in the virtual worlds led by MDX and UEL

A series of videos aimed at helping children navigate the perils – and pleasures – of the metaverse have been released on Safer Internet Day (February 6). The videos have been produced as part of the Virtual Reality Risks Against Children research project (VIRRAC), led by Middlesex University’s Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) and the University of East London’s (UEL) Institute for Connected Communities.

The videos are evidence-led, accessible, educational resources, which aim to raise awareness and provide tips for young people on how to stay safe in the metaverse - a two or three-dimensional online environment in which users interact with each other in virtual spaces. They are aimed at children aged 8 to 12-years-old.

The five videos are:

Middlesex University Associate Professor in Criminology and CATS researcher Dr Elena Martellozzo added, “Educating people about safely navigating the Metaverse is vital. By utilising our knowledge of prevention methods and forming strong partnerships with online platforms, we can effectively reduce online harms to children.”

CATS researcher and Criminology Lecturer Paula Bradbury said: "Our research has shown that children want boundaries, safety restrictions, and behaviour modelling guidance in the Metaverse. They recognise, and frequently experience, hate speech and harassment yet struggle with the very basic of safeguarding features, reporting."

Boglarka Meggyesfalvi, CATS researcher, said: "As adults, parents and practitioners we need to proactively enable children to become safer in the Metaverse.  We can only do this by increasing our knowledge of the risks and of the platforms children are using to engage with others in online play."

a person standing in the air with a star in their hand The metaverserse

The VIRRAC researchers’ work focuses on children aged 10-14 years-old, including vulnerable children, and seeks to inform practice and policy on developing safe online spaces for young people. It builds upon the research teams’ extensive research in the online harms and safety area.

UEL Professor of Criminology Julia Davidson OBE, one of the project leaders, 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."

One of the UEL researchers involved in the project, Dr Ruby Farr said: "These educational videos are friendly and age-appropriate, using animation and are narrated by children. They act as an introduction to creating a safe physical space for virtual reality use and being mindful of the digital environment. They don’t just focus on challenging behaviour, but include themes of respect, empathy, and responsibility online. They also discuss how to deal with negative interactions, including hate and harassment, and the importance of positive digital citizenship. There are currently no videos available for this age group, but they are also going to be very useful for educators and parents too."

The researchers received £90,711 in funding from the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online, a Bristol University-led research programme introduced to combat online harms. Support was also provided by Kabuni, a provider of immersive learning, its president of research and safety, Nina Jane Patel, and the online safety charity, Childnet. Since it began in 2004, Safer Internet Day has become an increasingly important event in the online safety calendar. It aims to educate people about dangers like cyberbullying and online grooming, while teaching them how to make the best use of internet technology. Originally a European Union project, it’s now marked in around 190 countries and territories. Read this blog for parental guidance on children in the metaverse.

Find out more about the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies.

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