FTC Report on Kids and Virtual Worlds

by on December 10, 2009 · 29 comments

This morning the Federal Trade Commission released its report on kids and virtual worlds.  You can read the report, entitled Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks, here.  (I’ve posted similar thoughts over at Terra Nova, apologies for the cross-post).

What initially strikes me about the report is the distance between how the report’s being billed and what it actually says.  The billing of the report—and thus the likely media tagline—is that the “FTC Report Finds Sexually and Violently Explicit Content in Online Virtual Worlds Accessed by Minors.”  But a more accurate statement would be “FTC Report Finds Surprisingly Little Sexually and Violently Explicit Content in Online Virtual Worlds Accessed by Minors, Especially Compared to What Minors Can Find on the Internet.”

The Commission found at least one (really? that’s all?) instance of explicitly violent OR sexual content in a significant percentage of the virtual worlds it examined—and that includes user chat, but in general it didn’t find many such instances per world.  So to be counted in the study as a virtual world that contains explicit violent or sexual content, the researchers just had to find one instance of chat in which someone said something violent or sexually oriented (which of course includes the scatalogical as well as the sexual).  The point is, it appears to me that they went looking for anything and didn’t find much.  Far from being seen as an indictment of virtual worlds as dangerous for kids, this seems to me to be quite positive for virtual worlds, especially as compared to the internet at large.  I’m relying on the following language from the report:

Despite this seemingly high statistic [the Commission found at least one instance of sexually or violently explicit content in 19 out of 27 worlds], the Commission found very little explicit content in most of the virtual worlds surveyed, when viewed by the actual incidence of such content.


Of [the 14 virtual worlds open to children under 13], the Commission found at least one instance of explicit content on seven of them.  Significantly, however, with the exception of one world, Bots, all of the explicit content observed in the child-oriented worlds occurred when the Commission’s researchers visited those worlds as teen or adult registrants, not when visiting the worlds as children under age 13.

I think the study said some interesting things, and there is some strong analysis, but the reception the report will get is, I bet, far removed from what the report actually says.

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