13 Jun 2012

Habbo and online gaming: how do I protect my child?

As Channel 4 News reveals children playing Habbo Hotel can be exposed to violent and sexual behaviour, web safety adviser John Carr answers your questions.

Online gaming: how do I protect my child from danger?

Bosses at the Habbo online gaming site are under pressure to announce new steps to ensure children are not exposed to sexual and violent content following an investigation by Channel 4 News. But what steps can parents take?

John Carr is an internet safety adviser who has worked with large corporations and government bodies. Here are his top three actions for worried parents and, below, your questions answered.

• There is no substitute for talking to your child to see if they have any anxieties or concerns. Try that first. You should ask what sites they visit, who they talk to when they go there and what they do.

• Filtering software can help keep younger children away from worrying content or areas. Your internet service provider will almost certainly have some that is free for all of their customers. If you are extremely concerned talk to a professional.

• I’m tempted to say “Keep Calm and Carry On” but I won’t. However, threatening to “take the internet away” or to remove a child’s mobile phone is unlikely to help. We need to learn how to use these things not abandon them.

Read more: Should you let your child play in Habbo Hotel?

Sophie Darlington: Are you going to shut Habbo? Or are you going to do something else?
John Carr:
Nobody wants to shut Habbo. But I think we can expect it to make itself safer. Their system of moderation is not working.

Lucy Hill: How high does this website rank among online child safety threats? Why was a government adviser on internet child safety previously unaware of the threat it posed?
In the UK we run a system of self-regulation. It means companies are trusted to abide by agreed standards. The children’s organisations simply do not have the resources to monitor sites in a systematic way. Maybe that needs to change.

Tony Kelsey: Hi just seen this on the news what about all the other sites that young kids r on r they safe?
Nothing in life is 100 per cent safe all of the time. Everyone who goes online needs to keep their wits about them. Young children need help and supervision.

Sonia Smith: My child is five and uses the internet for things like CBeebies but he knows how to navigate to things like YouTube and Gmail. Should I be watching him at all times when he is online?
Definitely. And you might also think about using parental controls software.

Nothing in life is 100 per cent safe all of the time. Everyone who goes online needs to keep their wits about them.

Darren Tunstall: My 13yo daughter just plays Minecraft, which seems safe to me. Or am I being naive?
JC: It would be very unusual for a 13 year old to restrict themselves to a single site or a single game. Not impossible, but definitely unusual.

Jason Carlow Was Charlton: My son is nine and my daughter is six and they use the moshie monster site, are they safe?
Debbie Edumoh:
Is it just Habbo or is there issues with any other? My son plays moshi monsters all the time.
I haven’t checked out Moshie Monsters but I have to say I have heard no bad reports about it.

Rachel James: My daughter likes YouTube how can I ensure she doesn’t see unsuitable things?
JC: There is a safety setting for YouTube which you can turn on. Check out this link.

Daniel Westerdale: Schools do not allow unsupervised access to the internet as no filtering software is bomb proof which I guess means we as parents need to do the same – or at least regulate internet access. Do you recommend a site that has the latest tips, software and up to date info on child online safety?
Actually several more enlightened schools do engage with social networking sites. It’s a shame more don’t. These sites can play a major part in young people’s lives nowadays so having a well-informed discussion about the do’s and don’ts, led by a well-informed teacher or expert, could be just the ticket. I am not saying Facebook should be on all of the time. That would be too distracting but slamming the door completely definitely doesn’t help. Three good sites for general advice are:

Britt Warg: Why did it take Channel 4 News to find this out? Why wasn’t it discovered before?
Investigative journalism can have a major impact when it works well. This did. We need more of it.

Laura Turner: What is your precise next step?
I am raising this with government. We need better tools to ensure appropriate safety standards are being met.

Jamie Keeling: I hope this doesn’t turn into the typical “all video games are evil” debate.
JC: Me too, ‘cos they aren’t.

In a statement, Paul LaFontaine, the chief executive of Sulake, the company which owns Habbo, told Channel 4 News it is committed to ensuring that children are safe on the site: “Any online community that allows users to assume virtual identities may be open to abuses, which is why we work hard to keep users safe, filtering content and blocking inappropriate users.

“We also provide education and rapid-response support to users who experience uncomfortable conversations.”