Channel 4 News, which scooped popular children’s web-based game Habbo Hotel as a den of predatory paedophiles and ‘cybering’ – text based sex talk – is further proof that parents need to wake up to the dangers of letting children use the internet unmonitored.
It has been a while since a national paedophilic moral panic swept the UK.
Habbo Hotel is widely regarded as a joke, and an easy target for trolling. The first popular invasion of Habbo Hotel came with comedy website Something Awful’s Genos meme, where hundreds of grey-suited, bald avatars would siege whole rooms, block other characters from walking around, generally being a nuisance, as far back as the early 2000s. This started a trend. But this was all harmless.
This whole scandal really highlights how important it is to be vigilant on the internet.
Channel 4 News points out that a legitimate business was making money indirectly off child exploitation, and that the rooms were not properly modded when sexual talk happened.
Unfortunately, the nature of parts of the internet means there will always be unsavoury characters. Unmodded chatrooms have that same element of predatory behaviour, just as many ChatRoulette users are almost guaranteed to see something they don’t want to. Sometimes chat rooms will be populated with Chris Hansen’s team trying to make entertaining but morally dubious television, but it is unimaginable how many cases of grooming slip through the net. This is not acceptable. But it is reality.
Just as parents would not let their young children spend their time alone in a room full of strangers, they should probably not let them hang out online without knowing the exact nature of what’s going on.
The Think Of The Children Brigade rightly has reason to be furious. They will probably scream their motto, and possibly suggest that we ban everything. There will be one or two politicians who, will, most likely, consider the Paedo Clause when they next want to clamp down on online privacy.
But just as ‘real life’ has its fair share of morally bankrupt people with malicious intent, so does the internet, including in online games. As Channel 4 News points out, the industry is largely self regulated. As with everything, for personal safety, parents should exercise caution.
Parent company of Habbo Hotel, Sulake, has suspended all conversations on the site. Sulake’s CEO Paul LaFontaine said: “Due to the challenging behaviour of a few users we have decided to mute the site and will update you when we have more information.”
Every British retailer which stocked Habbo gift cards, including WH Smith, Tesco, and Game have withdrawn all sales.
It will be interesting to see if the popular brand – with its dedicated userbase – will be able to bounce back from the scandal.