Young kids find pornographic images on free video game platform
Roblox: 'We do everything in our power to filter out everything'
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – News4Jax has uncovered a shocking element to Roblox, one of the most popular video game platforms for kids on the internet. The free online platform that allows users to create their own games reaches over 90 million users around the world. However, some parents are on high alert after their kids found pornographic content while playing.
It's not a new problem, but it's still happening. In fact, we have reports of pornographic and inappropriate content that goes back to 2017, with the most recent happening this past month. It didn't take long for other parents to come forward.
"Unfortunately I walked into the room looked at the screen and it looked like someone hacked into the game, and posted a pornographic image of a woman on one side of the building," explained George Tudor, a St. Johns County father with three girls.
Tudor says he was horrified when at the age of 6, one of his daughters showed him a very graphic image.
"My first reaction was absolutely shock, how could this happen to my little girl? Then it quickly turned into anger," said Tudor.
Tudor reported it to Roblox immediately and says the company got back to him quickly. However, he says he couldn't take back what his daughter saw.
"More than anything, as frustrating as it was, I felt bad having her innocence taken away like that," he explained.
News4Jax learned this was not an isolated incident. More pornographic images were sent to us by a parent who wished to remain anonymous.
The easiest way to understand Roblox is to think about it as a YouTube for video games. A gamer makes an account through the Roblox website or app.
Yulia Willmore, owner of Code Ninja, in St. Johns, uses the Roblox platform to teach kids coding and how to create online games.
"They can publish a game, they can code it, they can design it, and then they can upload it and it's available," Willmore explained.
But she admits, like any open platform, inappropriate users can find their way in. That's why she says parents need to pull up a chair to observe and learn what their kids are doing, ask questions about the games they are playing, and check in on chat rooms -- even ask to see the chats. (In privacy settings, chats can be turned off.)
With issues being reported for years, we reached out to Roblox to find out how inappropriate material continues to make its way onto the platform where potentially millions of children are exposed.
"Even if it's reported, I feel like the damage is already done if a child has seen it. So what is being done, and what do you recommend parents to do to make sure we don't get to that point?" we asked Roblox Vice President of Marketing Tami Bhaumik.
"We do everything in our power to filter out everything, and moderation of all of the content. If there is an incident like that we work with parents to make sure we are responding as quickly as possible," she answered.
Changes have been made over the last two years, Roblox says it has hired more than 800 people to moderate the site and has implemented several different privacy features.
READ: Roblox Parent's Guide
Kids have free access to Roblox by either downloading the app or going through its website, but must create an account before using it. The gaming platform says parents need to adjust those privacy settings when the account is made, to ensure added protections are in place before their child begins.
If you see inappropriate content, report it to Roblox immediately. It has a pretty good response time -- within 20 minutes.
But, Tudor believes safety starts with having real conversations with your children.
"For something like that, you're not going to be in trouble at all, because we want to know things like that, because our No. 1 goal as parents is to protect our kids," Tudor suggested.
Below is what Roblox sent News4Jax in response to efforts to protect kids.
"Our moderators and support teams are global and include an internal team at our headquarters in California and numerous teams around the world to ensure round the clock 24x7 coverage and multilingual capability.
"We monitor and moderate the behavior of our player community and review every uploaded image, video, and audio file used within our games to make sure they are safe and age appropriate.
"Users exhibiting bad behavior have their Roblox accounts moderated, which can include suspensions and deletion of their accounts on Roblox."
"We use automated machine learning technology to review all communication between users, looking for inappropriate behavior.
"We also use automation to flag other content for further review by our moderators.
"We have significant restrictions for what users 12 and under can share, including the use of words or phrases that we feel could be potentially dangerous (e.g., sharing any numbers that could be part of a phone number or address)."
"Parental control features allow for the selection of messaging options: (no chat, chat with friends, chat with everyone)
"Players can report inappropriate behavior using our Report Abuse system, which is located prominently throughout the site and in-game.
"In addition, users can easily mute or block any other player that they come across in game.
"Safety is our number one priority, but we don't stop there. Roblox is committed to empowering kids, teens, parents, and caregivers with the skills to create positive online experiences."
Roblox's new Digital Civility Initiative is investing in three main areas:
1. Enhancing the in-game experience for players; such as collaborating with leaders in the industry to develop algorithms to help identify and weed out bad actors.
2. Equipping parents, caregivers and educators with actionable resources to promote learning community safety and digital civility.
"This summer, we will launch a new site for digital well-being including safety tips, expert advice from online safety, parenting and education experts, and conversation starters to help parents navigate difficult topics about the digital world. To that end, we have also published a parent's guide that we continually update with new resources and information as it becomes available."
3. Partnering with digital safety leaders to strengthen the platform and make a positive impact on the industry.
"We have established partnerships with leading organizations nationwide that focus on child safety and internet safety including Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), Connect Safely, Fair Play Alliance, and kidSAFE among others. Our Trust & Safety Advisory Board is comprised of world-renowned digital safety authorities who help the company strengthen the platform and make a positive impact on the industry."
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