Children are being exposed to “virtual strip clubs” and grooming within Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, a researcher has discovered.
A BBC News researcher posed as a 13-year-old child and was approached by adult men and exposed to grooming, witnessed simulated sex, and received rape threats.
“The BBC News researcher – using an app with a minimum age rating of 13 – visited virtual-reality rooms where avatars were simulating sex. She was shown sex toys and condoms, and approached by numerous adult men,” the BBC reports. “The metaverse is the name given to games and experiences accessed by people wearing virtual reality headsets. The technology, previously confined to gaming, could be adapted for use in many other areas – from work to play, concerts to cinema trips.”
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children is warning that some of the apps are “dangerous by design” and told the BBC that they are “shocked and angry” at the reporter’s findings.
“BBC News also spoke to a safety campaigner who has spent months investigating VRChat and who now posts his videos on YouTube. He has spoken to children who say they were groomed on the platform and forced to take part in virtual sex. He chooses to remain anonymous because he is concerned for the safety of his family,” the report states. “The safety campaigner explained because VR is so immersive, children actually have to act out sexual movements.”
Mark Zuckerberg recently rebranded Facebook as “Meta” and the Oculus Quest headset as the Meta Quest — as he believes the Metaverse will be “the future of the internet.”
One of the most popular apps being used on the Meta Quest is called VRChat, where users can explore and interact using 3D avatars. The app has no age verification checks and was where the reporter accessed the virtual strip club.
“Children mix freely with adults,” the BBC report noted. “One man told our researcher that avatars can ‘get naked and do unspeakable things’. Others talked about ‘erotic role-play.'”
Head of online child safety policy at the NSPCC, Andy Burrows, said that “it’s children being exposed to entirely inappropriate, really incredibly harmful experiences.”
“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,” he continued.