Last night Channel 4 News exclusively revealed lapses in moderation, which were leaving young users exposed to sexual chat and being encouraged to continue the conversations on other platforms such as MSN & Skype.
When you sign up for Habbo Hotel, you create an avatar, a digital representation of yourself to walk around the virtual hotel and interact with other users. Â As you move from room to room, you can chat with the other people within. Â Despite the investigation Habbo Hotel’s owners claimÂ Habboâ€™s comprehensive moderation and safety system and was recognised as one of the safest social networks in a 2011 European Commission report. Â And to be fair to habbo hotel, their safety page lightly touches on some of the dangersÂ highlightedÂ in the C4 report.
With over 250 million users worldwide and almost 300,000 children signed up in the UK the site is by no means insignificant, however it has a way to go before it takes on the big boys of social networking. Â As a result of the report one major investor has pulled out of the site, and today Habbo Hotel has removed the chatÂ functionalityÂ for now.
How much of this grooming and explicit chat is also going on on facebook, twitter, bebo, myspace… etc? Â We don’t really know, because one of the esafety lessons we teach is to lock down your profile, to hide everything. Â As parents, teachers or social workers we aren’t able to view what our young ones are doing on sites with ‘better’ privacy controls. Â Chat rooms (which is excatly what Habbo Hotel is) have always been open by their nature, going back as far as the dawn of the internet with newsgroups and IRC. Â We are able to expose Habbo Hotel’s seedy element because it is open. Â As soon as a child goes on MSN or Skype, webcam or no webcam, the chat is private, hidden. Â These platforms are ‘closed’ chat rooms.
We need to teach people (not just children) the full suite of esafety lessons. Â Protecting you privacy is good, but if that leaves you isolated it can be bad too. Â Parents owe it to their children to become educated in esafety, and to monitor their childrens online activity. Â I hope this report will make some parents have an open and honest conversation with their children. Â Just because a site is colourful and playful shouldn’t stop a parent or carer having a little look first.