Undercover Reporter Finds Metaverse App Exposes Children to Grooming and Sexual Abuse

© AP Photo / Tony AvelarFacebook unveiled their new Meta sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2021
Facebook unveiled their new Meta sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.02.2022
An investigation conducted by an undercover BBC News reporter found that when posing as a 13 year-old girl, she was exposed to grooming, sexual material, racist insults, and rape threats in Facebook’s new “metaverse.”
Andy Burrows, who is the head of online child safety policy at National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), said the probe found what he believes to be “a toxic combination of risks”.
Those risks posed to children include being exposed to avatars simulating sex, being shown sex toys, condoms, orgies, sexual harrasment both verbally and physically, strip clubs, and rape threats. In the metaverse, children are free to mingle with adults. One adult male user told what he believed to be a 13 year-old user that she could “get naked and do unspeakable things.”

“It’s children being exposed to entirely inappropriate, really incredibly harmful experiences,” said Burrows. “This is a product that is dangerous by design, because of oversight and neglect. We are seeing products rolled out without any suggestion that safety has been considered."

“It felt horrible as if it was really happening to me,” said Jess Sherwood, the researcher who posed as the 13 year-old. Grown men asked Sherwood why she “wasn’t in school” and encouraged her to engage in virtual sex acts.
“VRChat definitely felt more like an adult's playground than a child's. A lot of the rooms were overtly sexualised in pink neon, similar to what you might see in the red light district in Amsterdam or in the more seedy parts of London's Soho at night. Inside, sex toys were on display,” wrote Sherwood of her undercover experience.
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VRChat is not one of Meta’s products, but is available to consumers in their app store. VRChat does not check the identity of its users, as was apparent to Sherwood when she successfully posed as a 13-year-old.
A safety campaigner who remains anonymous for safety reasons has spent months investigating the VRChat. He told the BBC that he has spoken to children who say they were groomed on the platform and forced to act out sexual movements in real life, in order to simulate sex acts virtually.
But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is enthusiastic about his company’s new venture in artificial intelligence. The Facebook founder has sunk billions of dollars into developing the company’s Oculus Quest headset. First introduced to the market in 2019, the virtual reality headset has been rebranded as the Meta Quest headset and costs between $300 and $400.
Meta says they are still adjusting safety improvements and figuring out how users interact in these spaces. It appears as though the only solution the company offers is “blocking” other users, but as Sherwood discovered, there are rooms filled with several individuals engaging in behavior unsuitable for children.
In the meantime, children’s charity groups are advising parents to monitor their child’s use of all VR headsets and devices related to the technology.
The founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the 56th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 15, 2020. - The 2020 edition of the Munich Security Conference (MSC) takes place from February 14 to 16, 2020.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.11.2021
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Dame Rachel de Souza, who is the Children’s Commissioner for England, has criticized Meta for what she believes to be a failure in regards to their safety measures. Reportedly horrified by what she saw, de Souza asks: “Are you telling me that Mark Zuckerberg, with all his fantastic engineers and ability to create this, can't keep children safe?”
The UK’s government is working to push through the Online Safety Bill, which is designed to prevent the spread of illegal content like child abuse, terrorist content, racist abuse, and other hate crimes, as well as protect children from grooming channels. The bill is expected to be presented to the UK Parliament in March of 2022.
Monika Bickert, who is Head of Product Policy and Counterterrorism for Facebook, has vied for government collaboration with tech giants like Facebook. Bickert says that she believes tech companies need regulation, and the responsibility of doing so should not fall solely on the shoulders of the tech companies, saying “businesses like ours should not be making these decisions on our own.”
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