Hate Groups Targeting Children Through Online Games

A Twitter user, a mom whose son plays Roblox, a popular online game with children, discovered neo-Nazi, white supremacist references within the platform. The game has more than 100 million active users worldwide.

Roblox allows users to create avatars and virtual worlds for those characters to inhabit and move around in. Most users create fun characters and play the game with other people who like it, too. However, some users have used the game to spread hateful messages.

According to the Twitter user, members on the site have been promoting #WhitePowerExtremist and #DomesticTerrorism.

After Roblox was informed about "four hateful profile accounts" found and identified by NBC News, the game developers removed them within hours. However, NBC News, with the help of another Twitter user, found more than 100 accounts that featured extremist and racist content, which included neo-Nazi coded language like "Jews to Gas!" and user names like "WhiteRaceBestRace." Those accounts were also removed by Roblox after they were reported to the company by NBC News.

Roblox has more than 800 human moderators who review millions of pieces of content every month. They use automated machine learning technology to monitor communication between gamers. The game also comes with features that enable players and parents to report bad behavior or content, according to the company's statement.

According to experts who study hate extremists, gaming platforms popular with kids, such as Roblox, are being used to influence users. According to Jason Blazakis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, who served for a decade as a top counterterrorism official at the State Department, "the language spewed by extremists can be used to entice new supporters."

He encourages people who play Roblox to flag in-game content that contain racist and/or other hate messages to help reduce content that can potentially influence others, especially impressionable children, to participate in hate crimes. Cyrus Farivar "Extremists creep into Roblox, an online game popular with children" nbcnews.com (Aug. 22, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist

According to the FBI, the number of young people being recruited by violent extremists through internet games has increased steadily. According to the Department of Justice, "[t]he term 'hate' can be misleading. When used in a hate crime…the word 'hate' does not mean rage, anger, or general dislike. In this context 'hate' means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law."

Extremists who encourage violence have also joined several popular social networking sites that let users share pictures and personal information. They create fake profiles and look for people vulnerable to recruitment. They also use these sites to spread propaganda using pictures, videos, and messages that glorify their causes.

Here are some ways to help monitor children's online presence:

  • Make sure that computers are placed in an open, common room in your house or in an open computer room in a library or other place where minors use computers.
  • Monitor use of personal devices.
  • Use all parental controls available.
  • Teach children how to use privacy settings or limit access to their profiles.
  • Encourage children to create strong passwords and to choose appropriate screen names.
  • Check the sites that they visit, and make sure that you read and follow safety tips that the sites provide.
  • Warn children about violence and hate mongers, and teach them respect for all people.
  • Go through social networking websites with children and discuss and share ideas about which websites may be potentially risky.
  • If you detect any inappropriate activity, report it to the website or law enforcement immediately.
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