The Metaverse (MV) has many positive features for children and young people’s cognitive, social and emotional development (Chang et al, 2020; Pallavicini & Pepe, 2020), but also presents an increased opportunity for poor mental wellbeing (Lavoie et al, 2020) and the possible increased risk of child abuse (particularly grooming) by adults (Hu, 2022; Usmani et al, 2022). Whilst the user level of 360-degree, 3D MV platforms is still in its infancy, 2D MV platforms have never before been so popular amongst children. With over 202 million registered accounts, and on average 43 million daily active users on Roblox alone (Backlinko.com, 2022). These meta-apps have reported experiencing daily challenges in tackling grooming (Broadhurst, 2019), cyberbullying and suicide ideation (Roblox, 2022). Online sex offenders are known to use online 2D MV platforms to lure children into encrypted chat apps such as Snapchat and Kik in order to facilitate the nude image sharing and exploitation (Afzal et al, 2021). To better understand and respond to child sexual abuse in the MV, this research will include several strands of investigation and development that will combine to produce a VIRRACK TOOLKIT REPORT and a MV Educational Film to increase awareness, online safety, policy guidance and cyber-citizenship amongst children. Outputs will be built on a process of multiple phases of investigation and agile revision, built on theory and emergent empirical findings.
The project aims:
- To develop an understanding of the existing challenges that are faced by tech companies, using MV apps, in their drive to ensure the greatest number of children, including the neurodivergent, can navigate their platforms safely.
- To develop a greater understanding of the knowledge gap and resource needs of professionals and practitioners working with children at risk of abuse and exploitation (CASE) in the MV.
- To improve safeguarding and police understanding of the MV and facilitate their ability to report and investigate child sexual abuse offences that occur in the MV.
- To develop a greater understanding, from the voices of children, regarding their MV safety and wellbeing support needs.