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Teaching Children How to Be Safe in the Metaverse

06 February 2024

A series of videos aimed at helping children navigate the perils – and pleasures – of the metaverse are being released on Safer Internet Day, which this year takes place on 6 February.

The videos have been produced as part of the Virtual Reality Risks Against Children research project (VIRRAC), led by the University of East London’s Institute for Connected Communities and the University of Middlesex’s Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies.

One of the UEL researchers involved in the project, Dr Ruby Farr said,

These educational videos are friendly and age-appropriate, using animation and are narrated by children. They act as an introduction to creating a safe physical space for virtual reality use and being mindful of the digital environment.

They don’t just focus on challenging behaviour, but include themes of respect, empathy, and responsibility online. They also discuss how to deal with negative interactions, including hate and harassment, and the importance of positive digital citizenship. There are currently no videos available for this age group, but they are also going to be very useful for educators and parents too.

The five videos are:

The VIRRAC researchers’ work focuses on children aged 10-14 years-old, including vulnerable children, and seeks to inform practice and policy on developing safe online spaces for young people. It builds upon the research teams’ extensive research in the online harms and safety area.

One of the project leaders, UEL Professor of Criminology

The metaverse brings with it a lot of positive features for children and young people’s cognitive, social and emotional development, but also an increased opportunity for exposure to online grooming and other forms of child sexual abuse. Metaverse platforms are being used by children to interact with strangers online. We are already seeing instances of child abuse and meta-apps have reported experiencing daily challenges in tackling grooming, cyberbullying and suicide ideation.

Middlesex University Associate Professor in

The researchers received £90,711 in funding from the National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online, a Bristol University-led research programme introduced to combat online harms. Support was also provided by Kabuni, a provider of immersive learning, its president of research and safety, Nina Jane Patel, and the online safety charity, Childnet.

Since it began in 2004, Safer Internet Day has become an increasingly important event in the online safety calendar. It aims to educate people about dangers like cyberbullying and online grooming while teaching them how to make the best use of internet technology. Originally a European Union project, it’s now marked in around 190 countries and territories.