Following in the footsteps of civil groups taking a legal stand against the social media and tech giants, a group of families have filed a class action lawsuit against gaming platform Roblox.
The lawsuit accuses Roblox Corporation of “negligently misrepresenting and falsely advertising” the platform, marketing the mini-game center as a platform for children, while showing minor users inappropriate or explicit content and allowing them to participate in inappropriate meetings. The group also accuses the company of misleading parents into spending thousands of dollars on the site due to unclear pricing and the ability for children to make in-game purchases using fictitious “Robux.”
“Parents who would never let their kids use TikTok don’t think twice about letting them on Roblox, even though what they encounter on Roblox can be much more harmful. The platform’s popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic, when parents were desperate for social interaction for their children. But Roblox has overstayed its welcome in spaces designed for children,” wrote the filing’s law firm founder Alexandra Walsh. The lawsuit notes the site’s alleged inadequate filtering and moderation policies for facilitating this behavior.
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This is the second lawsuit Roblox has faced in recent months, after a complaint in Northern California accused the company of illegally facilitating children’s gambling using its in-game purchases.
On November 16, Roblox issued a statement regarding the latest lawsuit: “We dispute the allegations and will respond in court. Roblox is committed to providing a positive and safe experience for people of all ages. We have an expert team of thousands of people dedicated to moderating and keeping Roblox safe 24/7, and we act quickly to block inappropriate content or behavior when it’s detected, including sexual content that violates our community standards.”
Families involved in the lawsuit claim their children were shown nude avatars, avatars engaged in sexual intercourse and the use of sex toys, as well as virtual strip clubs – this is not the only case of a social gathering and gaming platform facing facing a backlash for inappropriate content in virtual children’s spaces.
In 2022, Meta Horizon Worlds virtual reality was criticized for potentially exposing young users to hate speech and harassment, prompting the site to introduce protection features for underage accounts.
What you need to know about Roblox and children’s online safety
Although Roblox has evolved over time as a site for adult gamers — driving a wider audience with brand and celebrity collaborations and even hinting at adult-oriented virtual experiences — it’s still popularly thought of as a children’s gaming platform. A demographic breakdown shows that its players are heavily skewed into the Gen Z age group, with players 13 and older making up more than half of its 70 million users.
Part of the free site’s popularity stems from its customizability, with millions of games and virtual worlds (or “experiences”) for users to play and use as sites to meet friends. But the platform has long been criticized for mismanaging the vast expanse of its gaming offerings. Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization for children’s media, issued a warning to parents in 2022, noting the prevalence of violence, profanity and even sexual and racist content. Common Sense Media also pointed to the possibility of young users falling into “ODers” or “online daters” looking for romantic and sexual encounters.
To address growing concerns, Roblox has introduced several safety features — such as watch teams, chat filtering, password-locked pages, and limits on experience and spending — as well as additional resources for parents and caregivers. The platform also requires children under 18 to obtain parental consent before creating an account, and users 12 or younger have posts and chats automatically filtered for inappropriate content and personal information.
Common Sense Media has published its own parental guide to Roblox, and other safety groups have issued similar reviews of Roblox parental controls and general online safety. Recommended settings include:
Enable “Account Restrictions” for secondary accounts.
Restrict or disable chat settings.
Enable “Enabled Experiences” to limit young users to only age-appropriate experiences.
While the introduction of parental controls may reassure worried caregivers in the short term, many advocates (and those seeking legal help from the tech giants) see protecting child-focused safe spaces online as the company’s ultimate responsibility.
And user-side safety controls can only go so far, especially since Roblox is expanding its interaction model with a new 1:1 chat experience launched just this week known as Roblox Connect.
“Roblox is an amazingly popular platform, on par with Barbie and Lego as a one-word brand that inspires trust among parents and educators. But it is a misplaced trust and completely undeserved,” wrote Ann Andrews, a partner at the law firm involved Andrews & Thornton. “Roblox claims to go above and beyond to protect children, but the systems that monitor inappropriate behavior often fail, and the platform makes it nearly impossible for parents to monitor, track and quantify where and how children spend their money. “
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