The US Department of Homeland Security has awarded nearly $700,000 to address threats of extremism on social gaming platforms, and the Roblox counterterrorism investigation plays a major role in the initiative. The allocation of funds represents the first time DHS has allocated funds to combat extremism and radicalization within online gaming communities.
Spearheaded by the Institute for International Studies at Middlebury College, which houses the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, the research program will last about two years. Other partners include Take This, which explores the relationship between gaming and mental health, and Logically, which tackles problematic online behavior at scale, according to Vice’s Motherboard.
The move follows complaints from experts that a lack of funding for research put gaming communities behind social media in global efforts to combat terrorism. The researchers hope to use these findings to provide best practices for preventing terrorist recruitment efforts in gaming spaces, along with resources to help monitor such behavior and workshops to aid in the prevention of extremist exploitation.
Roblox is one of the main companies at the core of the project due to its status as a gaming company as well as a pervasive social platform. The fact that extremists actively recruit on Roblox is particularly problematic, as just under half of the platform’s player base is under the age of 13. Although the research project was recently approved, the CTEC told Ars Technica that it has been working with Roblox for six months.
In 2019, NBC News reported that it was able to quickly locate and identify over 100 Roblox accounts that featured extremist and racist content. At the time, a representative for the sandbox gaming 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 role-playing.”
The long-term goal of the research project is to convince game companies to adopt anti-terrorism policies like those that have already been enacted on social media platforms. Alex Newhouse, deputy director of CTEC, says these game companies currently rely on user feedback, which is insufficient to combat the problem.
Such counterterrorism efforts may seem excessive, but according to a 2019 survey by the Anti-Defamation League, one in four respondents “had been exposed to extremist white supremacist ideology in online gaming.”
Roblox is the only major game 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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