The US Department of Homeland Security has awarded nearly $700,000 to address threats of extremism on social gaming platforms, with Roblox counterterrorism research playing a significant role in the initiative. The allocation of funds represents the first time the DHS has allocated funding to combat extremism and radicalisation within online gaming communities.
Spearheaded by Middlebury College’s Institute of International Studies, which hosts the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism, the research program is set to last about two years. Other partners include Take This, which explores the relationship between gaming and mental health, and Logically, which tackles problematic online behaviour at scale, according to Vice’s Motherboard.
The move follows expert complaints that a lack of research funding put gaming communities behind social networks in global efforts to combat terrorism. Researchers hope to use these findings to provide best practices to avoid terror recruitment efforts in gaming spaces, along with resources to help monitor such behaviour and workshops to aid in the prevention of extremist exploitation.
Roblox is one of the major companies at the project’s core due to its status as a gaming company as well as a widespread social platform. The fact that extremists actively recruit on Roblox is particularly problematic as slightly less than half of the platform’s player base is under 13 years old. Although the research project was only recently approved, the CTEC told Ars Technica that it has been working with Roblox for six months.
In 2019, NBC News reported it was quickly able to locate and identify more than 100 Roblox accounts that featured extremist and racist content. At the time, a representative for the sandbox game platform reported that it employs more than 800 human moderators who review and remove such content. In 2018, an investigation by The Sun called Roblox a “haven for Jihadi, Nazi and KKK roleplay.”
The research project’s long-term objective is to convince gaming companies to adopt counterterrorism policies like those already enacted on social media platforms. Alex Newhouse, deputy director of CTEC, says that these gaming companies currently rely on user reporting, which is insufficient to combat the issue.
Such counterterrorism efforts may seem overkill, but according to a 2019 survey from the Anti-Defamation League, one in four respondents “were exposed to extremist white supremacist ideology in online games.”
Roblox is the only major gaming company with a public policy addressing extremism on its platform. The company recently introduced more robust reporting tools that players can use when they come across hateful content in the best Roblox games of 2022.
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