Since the company formerly known as Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, the Metaverse has been their big focus. The idea behind the Metaverse is an interactive virtual space, a world within our own, complete with its own lands and real estate.
But will these spaces be safe for children?
New technologies have been served to children without pause for research to indicate the psychological safety of these tools. It’s the wild west when it comes to technology, and the Metaverse is the new frontier. The onus is on parents, then, to keep children safe as these virtual spaces become more a part of our children’s lives.
So, what kind of parental controls will you have access to in the Metaverse? This question is particularly difficult to answer since the Metaverse is a term coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson in 1992 and envisioned in many different forms.
For this article, we’ll explore the Metaverse as Meta intends it – a singular immersive virtual platform managed by Mark Zuckerberg’s company.
In this context, here’s what you might expect of parental controls in the Metaverse as the technology may or may not come to define the next decade.
A Look Into The Metaverse – Explanation and Examples
The word "Metaverse" was coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson, a science fiction writer of the novel Snow... Read more
Promises for Parental Control in the Metaverse
Right now, what we are seeing constitutes what industry experts have referred to as “proto-metaverses.”
From Fortnite to Roblox, children can engage in these spaces with varying levels of autonomy, creativity, and self-expression. The Metaverse, in all its current iterations, has some level of parental control settings or can be managed with parental control applications.
The Meta Metaverse will be no different. In fact, games and apps that take place adjacent to this Meta-managed world will likely have more cohesive parental control tools. That’s because while Meta says the Metaverse will be “ created by people all over the world,” the company’s vision is all about coordinating and empowering this creation.
Zuckerberg and Meta government affairs chief Nick Clegg is on record talking about how parental controls will factor into this work.
During a video presentation, Clegg mentioned that the Metaverse will include:
- Age controls,
- Parental controls, and
- Data collection and use transparency.
These features will reportedly be implemented upon consultation with various human and civil rights groups that the company is said to be working with. Though, the exact form these parental controls will take is yet to be determined.
Hopefully, we can expect more robust controls than those offered by Facebook. These are, in essence, non-existent. Yes, Facebook (technically) limits registration to those 13 and older, but getting around this is as simple as putting in a fake birthday. Assuming children are not intelligent enough to figure this out is deeply cynical.
Then, there are privacy settings that can limit who sees profile content, but post and news feed filters require a more itemized approach. All this means that parents have to have a significant degree of online literacy to keep their children safe.
However, the Metaverse certainly has the potential for producing safe, kid-friendly spaces. Proto-metaverse platforms have proven this by instituting more robust parental controls intended to cultivate healthier online interaction.
Developing kid-safe spaces in the Metaverse
The Metaverse is new territory. While it has been explored theoretically in pop culture and in proto-metaverses now common to children’s entertainment, the full impact of social engagement through these tools is unknown.
What we can see are some of the ways other platforms act to protect children. Let’s take Roblox as one example.
Roblox is an extremely popular online multiplayer game that allows players to develop their own internal games and play other people’s. With over half of U.S. children under 16 estimated to have used this platform, Roblox will undoubtedly influence whatever Meta has in store.
Unlike Facebook, Roblox does offer parental controls. These include
- A parent PIN for preventing children from making changes to account restrictions.
- Account restrictions that prevent in-game messaging or finding the account via an associated phone number.
- Contact settings to limit or totally disable communication with others on the platform.
- Two-step authentication to keep your child’s account secure.
The inclusion of these parental controls does NOT mean that child engagement with the platform needs no additional parental oversight and guidance. Parents still have to step up these protections and monitor their child’s use of the game as much as possible.
The same will certainly be true of the Metaverse in any form it ends up taking. As an evolution of social media, prolonged exposure to this medium will likely have similar elevated anxiety effects on children that require proper guidance and stress management techniques to mitigate.
Knowing Meta’s history with privacy protections and children’s mental health, it will be paramount for parents to set up protections for their kids in the Metaverse.
Meta’s history with child protections
While there is potential for the Metaverse to act as a decentralized autonomous organization, governed by smart contracts that protect communities, oversight and protection will likely fall to Meta. This is a company that doesn’t have the best history with child or data protections.
The lack of direct parental controls aside, recent whistleblower accusations do not support Meta (which also owns Instagram) as a company whose products are particularly child-friendly. The whistleblower accusations included details like the following from Meta’s own internal research:
- 13.5% of teen girls on Instagram say the platform worsens thoughts of suicide and self-injury worse.
- 7% of teen girls on Instagram say the platform worsens eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.
- Meta found they worsened body image issues for 1 in 3 teen girls.
In addition to this data, whistleblowers alleged that Meta knew its platforms were being used to “promote human trafficking and domestic servitude.”
In short, parents should not trust the safety of online platforms—operated by Meta or anyone else—to act in the best interests of their children. Regardless of what parental controls the broader Metaverse of the future ends up having, it’s your job as a parent to protect your children in virtual environments.
Ensuring your child is protected in a virtual environment
Keeping your children safe in the Metaverse requires that you educate yourself on the dangers inherent to an online environment. Then, you need the tools to simplify and manage your oversight of children’s online activity.
Fortunately, there are plenty of apps and tools out there that can help you coordinate security and make parental controls comprehensive. As the Metaverse evolves, so too will the tools to help parents manage it.
In the meantime, educate yourself on what it means to keep children safe in proto-metaverse environments. Best practices include:
- Monitoring child activity, engagement, and reaction to virtual platforms.
- Casting VR headset gameplay to a screen you can see.
- Learning to talk openly and healthily about the use of online and virtual technology.
- Setting parental controls, restrictions, and limitations wherever they are available.
- Playing with your kids in these spaces to demonstrate and encourage healthy use of them.
With these tips and considerations, you can make the digital world a safer place for your childrenÃ¢ÂÂregardless of the parental control tools instituted by Meta or other companies that collaborate in the Metaverse. The key takeaway should be that safe engagement with virtual platforms is ultimately on you as a parent.
Educate yourself on the Metaverse, safe virtual spaces for kids, and the steps you can take to promote their safety online. Then, build resources and routines for monitoring child safety in and out of the Metaverse.