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Parental Alert: Pornography and Abuse on Teen Websites

posted by Nell Minow

Habbo Hotel, a popular social media website for teenagers, is reopening after suspending its interactive functions following an investigative journalist’s reports of abuse.

Following Tuesday’s announcement that mobile app Skout temporarily closed its under-18 community amidst rape allegations, Finnish virtual world Habbo Hotel has shut down its chat functions after “reports of abusive behaviors.”

Marketed as “the world’s largest social game and online community for teenagers,” the game boasts 10 million visitors per month to the virtual hotel, where children as young as 13 years old create avatars, chat publicly or privately with other users, and buy credits to furnish animated hotel rooms.

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But the service made headlines this week after Rachel Seifert, a producer with the U.K.’s Channel 4 News, said she encountered pornographic chat, avatars engaged in cyber sex, and more. Seifert spent two months investigating the goings-on of the seemingly innocent game. While posing as a young girl, Seifert was asked to strip fully naked, “and asked what would I do on a webcam,” she said.

Seifert had similar sexually charged and inappropriate experiences all 50 times she played the game.

I looked into this after receiving a spam email “accepting” a registration at Habbo I had never signed up for.  The recent announcement that Facebook plans to expand to include middle schoolers adds to the concern about the combination of poor judgment, increased independence, and anonymity in social media.  Parents should be on the alert and make sure they have meaningful conversations and oversight of their children’s online activities and relationships.

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