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The Metaverse and its child safety concerns

VR apps and games have always had their problems. As VR tech gets more immersive and accessible, these problems also grow. One of the more popular VR apps at the moment, VRChat, has had its shortcomings exposed in a recent BBC investigation which revealed a rather big child safety problem. 

BBC researcher Jess Sherwood was posing as a 13-year-old girl on VRChat when she entered a VR strip club. She witnessed explicit material, racist insults, a rape threat and instances of grooming. Additionally, she was approached by numerous adult men and saw digital avatars simulating sex and was shown sex toys and condoms. 

VRChat allows users to hang out in VR spaces created by the community. However, there’s little restriction on what the community can make and while that might be a good place to show off your creativity in VR, here’s where the dark side of things come into play. 

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The Metaverse’s moderation problem

While VRChat isn’t owned or made by Meta, it can be downloaded from Meta’s Quest headset’s app store. Meta has been investing heavily in the Metaverse program to bring Zuckerberg’s vision of the future of the internet to reality, but there are some pretty gaping holes to fix first. 

VRChat itself isn’t geared towards adult content, but the platform gives its users the ability to create their own rooms. With a little bit of Unity 3D know-how, any user can create any room they want. This means that while you might get some enjoyable experiences, including a virtual McDonald’s, there are also pole dancing and strip clubs. 

The app has a minimum age rating of 13 but has no age verification checks, with the only requirement for admission being a Facebook account. Sherwood used a fake profile to create her persona and was allowed into the app without checking for her real identity. 

In her own words, VRChat felt a lot more like an adult playground rather than a child’s. Many of these rooms are overly sexualised with pink neon lights, similar to what you might come across in a red-light district in Amsterdam. Even the music playing in the rooms added to the overall impression. 

VRChat maintains that predatory or toxic behaviour has no place in the platform and that users have different tools at their disposal to block users and report harassment. 

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