Is your child a fan of the wildly popular internet game, Roblox? If so, there are a few things you should know.
For those who’ve never heard of the game, here’s the gist – Roblox serves as a platform where kids can create games and adventures for their unique avatars. The site allows users to interact with other avatars – or “friends” – both within the game and using chat and messaging functions, according to the company’s website.
“Roblox provides a fun, supportive, and educational space where your child’s imagination can thrive,” the Roblox site reads. “Millions of kids have used our tools to imagine what it’s like to explore the farthest reaches of outer space, build a vast metropolis, or design a vehicle with realistic suspension and physics systems.”
As of June of this year, Roblox reported 64 million monthly users – many of whom are kids. In fact, the company reports that on average, Roblox users under the age of 13 visit the site 25.5 times a month and spend a combined total of 51.5 million hours per month playing the game. Adolescents 13 to 17 years of age visit the site an average of 27 times per month and spend roughly 32.5 million hours playing the game.
While the company has found massive success – it’s currently valued at $2.4 billion, according to a report by Recode – there have been major troubles in paradise. While the game encourages creativity and social interaction, it can also serve as a platform for abuse and predatory behavior.
Just a week ago, a North Carolina mother was sitting with her 7-year-old daughter as the child played Roblux on her iPad and was shocked when she glanced at the screen just in time to see her daughter’s avatar being sexually assaulted by three other players.
“I’m struggling with where to begin here because I’m feeling quite traumatized and violated on so many levels,” mom Amber Peterson wrote on her Facebook page. “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.”
Peterson took screenshots of the graphic scene and posted them to her Facebook page. Her post quickly went viral – racking up more than 8,500 comments and 2,600 reactions.
The company was quick to respond, reassuring the public it had tracked down and permanently banned the user who attacked Peterson’s daughter in the game.
“We have identified how this bad actor created the offending action and are putting additional safeguards in place to reduce the possibility of this happening again in the future,” a Roblox spokesperson told Today in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for this behavior. Our work to ensure a safe platform is always evolving and remains a top priority for us.”
But this isn’t the first time the gaming platform has found itself in hot water. The company came under fire last year when a British father received sexually suggestive messages from strangers while logged into his young son’s account.
“They said: ‘Hi’ so I said ‘hi’ and they asked if I was a boy or girl and my age, so I said I was an eight-year-old boy,” Iain Morrison told the UK Mirror.
Morrison said the other players beckoned him into the bedroom of the virtual house and asked him to perform sex acts.
“They said ‘you look cute’ and ‘you look sexy,” he continued. “It was just sickening reading all the comments pop up. My kids were completely oblivious as to what the words and stuff meant.”
While Roblox has built-in features that allow parents to control the type of messaging in which their child can engage, internet safety experts say it’s difficult to be in total control.
“Any app or platform or game that allows two-way interaction between your child and another player is going to have predators on it,” Australian cyber safety expert Susan McLean told ABC News. “And then the risk ramps up when you can have chat. That’s one of the features of this game. I think this is a very important warning for parents to not [just] look at the app or game developer’s website. They will only tell you sunshine and happiness.”
Peterson says she did her homework before letting her daughter play the game.
“Roblox also has security settings that allow the parent to block outside conversations and invitations,” her Facebook post reads. “There are also 24-hour moderators that are hired to block any potentially inappropriate content. When my husband and I decided to allow our daughter to play this game, we adjusted the security settings to maximum privacy.”
But even those precautions couldn’t protect her daughter.
“Parents/Caregivers…I urge you to take another look at the security settings on all of your devices and closely supervise your child if you allow them to continue playing games with online platforms such as Roblox,” Peterson wrote. “Better yet, perhaps you can join me in taking the rest of this summer to challenge your child to PUT AWAY THEIR SCREENS….AND READ!!! Books cannot be hacked, but sadly, I’ve learned the hard way that a child’s innocence can be just at the touch of a button.”
We’ve gathered some resources listed on the Roblox website for those wanting to read up on the game and it’s safety features.