Roblox has hired Laura Higgins, an online safety expert, to lead a new digital civility initiative at the company that makes a virtual world and gaming platform for teens.
Roblox has grown tremendously to more than 80 million monthly players, but it has had bad incidents, like last year when a child’s game character was sexually violated in the virtual world. Since then, the company has put a renewed focus on online safety and is moving to stay ahead of such problems in the future, said Tami Bhaumik, vice president of marketing for Roblox, in an interview with GamesBeat.
“Safety is a huge commitment for us as a company,” Bhaumik said. “In the last couple of years, we tightened it up. We have a tremendous opportunity to lean forward and really start focusing on teaching our community and players and parents on how to treat each other better.”
Higgins has already been an adviser to Roblox for the past 18 months.
“I’m really excited to be here, as I have been working with Roblox as a safety partner for some time,” Higgins said. “The goal is to make the experience of users more meaningful and positive. Give them life skills they can take away.”
Roblox wants to create a place where kids and teens can play together in a positive setting. Higgins, the first director of digital civility at Roblox, said in an interview that positive behavior should be modeled and encouraged, so that it becomes the norm and spreads. It may sound like a tall order, but Higgins brings 20 years of experience creating similar programs across the United Kingdom.
“Roblox’s mission is to bring the world together through play,” said CEO David Baszucki in a statement. “As a training ground for life, we are fostering the new behaviors and skills that digital citizens need in this rapidly changing world. I’m pleased Laura will be joining us to help guide our efforts in this important area.”
Higgins said she would be meeting with Baszucki to get the program started at Roblox, which already invests heavily in safety and positive online experiences. Higgins will help Roblox partner with digital safety leaders around the world to identify technology and behavioral trends that can help Roblox strengthen what it does.
Higgins was most recently the online safety operations manager at the South West Grid for Learning, where she worked for the past eight years on services such as the Professionals Online Safety Helpline, a support service for children in the United Kingdom. She was previously a committee member for BBC Children in Need and is a senior visiting fellow in online safeguarding at the University of Suffolk.
Regarding the virtual sexual assault, Bhaumik said, “About the incident last summer, we’re really proud how this company reacted and attacked it and tightened up the platform. We have not had an egregious incident like that since. So we can move into a positive phase of this next adventure of ours.”
Bhaumik said that Roblox already has a code of conduct, and it has filters in place that prevent players from using inappropriate language. But the players try to gamify that and get around the filters, putting Roblox’s engineers to the test.
Higgins said that the goal now is softer, or about helping people learn how to talk to each other in a civil way, how to achieve a common goal, and how to flag inappropriate content. Bhaumik said that Higgins will have a lot of resources at her disposal across the company to enact her programs.
Higgins said, “We will help them become good citizens online. We will work with parents and caregivers, who are key, by helping them to learn how to talk to their children.”
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