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Gaming and the Metaverse: The alarming rise of online child sexual exploitation and abuse within the new digital frontier. November 2022

 

UNICRI dives in the virtual world together with partners from the Bracket Foundation and Value for Good in the new report Gaming and the Metaverse: The alarming rise of online child sexual exploitation and abuse within the new digital frontier.

The metaverse is an emerging digital environment offering users with new, immersive social experiences, all within a growing digital economic ecosystem. The metaverse stands apart from more ‘traditional’ closed-platform gaming experiences, enabling a wider array of social interactions, encompassing making friends, connecting with other players and consuming content. However, the growing community of users on such social gaming platforms also includes many children, who may be exposed to sexual exploitation and abuse, if proper safeguard measures are not in place. This new report by UNICRI, the Bracket Foundation and Value for Good GmbH seeks to contribute to building understanding of the new and unique risks facing children who use these virtual spaces and what measures the various stakeholders must take to ensure their safety and security.

As the use of these virtual platforms increases, so too will the scale and complexity of the potential harm to children. The immersion of these spaces offers new psychological risks to children and the gamification elements, such as platform currencies, and new avenues for abuse. As these platforms have to a degree been considered fringe or in their infancy, the focus held by developers appears to have been on rapid user growth, which can come at the cost of effective community moderation and management. A lack of engagement from policy makers on the risks posed by the metaverse exacerbates the scale of the challenges, leaving a lack of clarity in terms of a comprehensive regulatory approach to prevent vulnerabilities and abuses.

As these platforms increase in prominence, this report serves as an advisory warning on the current state of social gaming platforms and the risks that children may face in such environments. It further provides recommendations in terms of how government and industry can work together to implement platform features and legislation that protects children and their rights, while maintaining platform harmony.

For more information contact the UNICRI AI team at aicentre.unicri@un.org