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Metaverse Mayhem: How to Keep Your Kids Safe in Virtual Reality

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 9:07 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A recent report is raising eyebrows for parents whose children are dabbling in virtual reality technology.

The watchdog nonprofit, Common Sense Media, recently issued findings that say the Metaverse and virtual reality technology that goes along with it, are moving too fast for safeguards. The organization’s study found that children could be exposed to a number of hazards in the Metaverse, including sexually explicit content, abusive language and behavior, privacy and data collection such as eye movement and facial recognition, along with potential psychological risks such as addiction or dissociation from reality.

NBC’s Kate Snow recently ventured into the Metaverse for a report on the Today Show. In her piece, she tried two popular Meta apps, Horizon Worlds and VR Chat. In each, she reported that she found children 16 and younger using the apps, and in some extreme cases, they were exposed to virtual sexual activity.

Dr. Justin Patchin, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminal justice at UW-Eau Claire, says right now, the latest technology is ahead of both parents and policymakers.

“The Metaverse is new and a lot of parents aren’t aware of this virtual reality world. And as parents aren’t aware, certainly lawmakers and regulators and policymakers haven’t caught up with the potential concerns that could happen in these spaces.”

Patchin says some of the responsibility for creating safe spaces in technology falls to the companies that build them, but that there is a discrepancy between large businesses like Meta and smaller third-party creators.

“I’m not really concerned about the bigger companies. We might have some questions about what kinds of data they’re gathering and how they’re using it but in terms of safety procedures, I think they’re going to catch up,” said Patchin. “It’s really these smaller apps and environments that end up in these spaces that are maybe housed overseas that aren’t subject to our regulations. Those are the ones I’m concerned about and they’re certainly proliferating in these spaces right now.”

Patchin says the bottom line is to have conversations about this type of technology and social media early and often.

“Ask them what apps they’re using, what online environments they’re visiting, maybe do some Google research on those spaces,” said Patchin. “The more regular conversations you can have with your kids, even going online with them in these spaces looking around, just like you’d go in bigger cities and stuff and protect them from the harmful stuff and enjoy the exciting and fun stuff with them.”

Studies show children who have parents more involved in their lives are more likely to avoid dangerous situations, both in real life and in virtual reality.

“We need to make that connection with them so that they make good decisions even when we’re not with them,” said Patchin. “Especially when it comes to online spaces, we can’t be everywhere with them at all times so we have to rely on that relationship and that bond.”

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