(Adds risk acknowledgment from Roblox prospectus in paragraphs
7 through 9)
BANGALORE/SAN FRANCISCO, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Profanities and
other offensive content that basic word-filtering tools are
designed to catch can be found in some game titles and user
profiles on children's gaming platform Roblox, searches of the
website show, despite the company's "no tolerance" policy and
assurances it has safeguards to enforce it.
Powered by user-created games, Roblox filed late Thursday
for a multibillion-dollar stock market debut, riding the
lockdown entertainment boom with its appeal as a place for safe
fun and interactions for the youngest gamers.
But parenting groups and investors alike said they were
concerned about whether the company's automated systems to
moderate content can effectively delete potentially offensive
language and images that pop up on the platform.
Simple Google keyword searches of its site - conducted twice
by Reuters since the company announced its stock market plans in
October - turned up more than 100 examples of abusive language
or imagery. One profile, for example, included "shut up and rape
me daddy" in the profile description line, while another had
In response to written questions, company spokeswoman Teresa
Brewer said in a statement that Roblox "has no tolerance for
inappropriate content, which is why we have a stringent safety
system, including proprietary text filtering technology,
third-party machine learning solutions, and customized rules on
what to block, which we update daily."
Last month, Roblox removed the examples within hours of
Reuters sharing them with the company. Roblox has said it has
1,600 people working full time to eliminate inappropriate
content on the platform.
In the stock registration filed after this story was
published, the company acknowledged that "from time to time
inappropriate content is successfully uploaded onto our platform
and can be viewed by others prior to being identified and
removed by us" and was a "risk factor."
"This content could cause harm to our audience and to our
reputation of providing a safe environment," the company wrote
of the former concern.
"If we are unable to prevent, or are perceived as not being
able to sufficiently prevent, all or substantially all
inappropriate content from appearing on our platform...
would likely result in significantly reduced revenue, bookings,
profitability, and ultimately, our ability to continue to
successfully operate our platform."
Roblox offers account controls for parents to restrict how
their kids can interact with others on the site. It also lets
parents limit the child to a curated list of games vetted for
kids under the age of 13. Reuters did not find any inappropriate
content on such games.
All sites that rely on users to create material must grapple
with how much effort to expend policing that content, and even
if that is enormous, there could still be inappropriate posts.
Unlike Twitter and Facebook Inc, which publish
quarterly transparency reports about the types and volumes of
purged content, Roblox does not provide such data. That makes it
difficult to tell how common it is.
Roblox is a free platform which offers millions of games,
many of them created by its own young users through a simple
programming tool that the company provides. It has been credited
with developing kids' logic and creativity. Like Microsoft
Corp's Minecraft, Roblox allows users to create and
share 3D gaming content via simple tools and send messages to
The simplicity of many Roblox games stands in contrast to
popular videogame hits like Fortnite or Apex Legends, which
depict killing competitions and target teens. Roblox adviser
Larry Magid said that three quarters of U.S. children between
nine and 12 used the platform.
Reuters picked about 20 words commonly considered offensive
and looked for them using the site's own search tool, and also
through Google's system for searching within a specific site.
Roblox's tool revealed no hits, because filters were preventing
users from actively looking for problematic content while
playing Roblox games. However, the Google search showed that
kids could see the problematic profiles and descriptions in a
variety of ways, including through friend invitations and group
Most of the examples Reuters found on Roblox included
deliberate misspelling of obscenities, or the n-word, which
industry veterans say should not make it past standard filtering
NBC reported last year that it found neo-Nazi and racist
profiles on the site, which Roblox later removed.
Yet early this year, an industry expert who asked not to be
named, sent Roblox head of safety Remy Malan a dozen examples of
games with racial slurs or the word "Jew" in the title,
including some with concentration camp uniforms or other
imagery, according to screen shots of the email seen by Reuters.
The examples were confirmed by Reuters and dated as far back
as 2009. Some of them were deleted after Reuters described them
to Roblox in October. Malan did not respond to the expert or to
a Reuters request for comment.
Tech and entertainment watchdog Common Sense Media has
lifted its suggested age for Roblox players to 13 years old over
the last few years, after abusive language in profiles and
sexual content in games kept appearing on Roblox after the
company said it would remove it, according to Jeff Haynes, who
oversees video gaming coverage for the nonprofit.
Five online safety experts who reviewed the examples found
by Reuters said they were surprised such profiles and wording
managed to slip through when rudimentary filtering systems can
catch and remove such content.
Magid, a Roblox advisor and CEO of the nonprofit
ConnectSafely.org - which takes funding from Roblox and other
companies to promote safety guidelines for parents - said the
examples Reuters had found showed the safeguards did not fully
"I think scale is part of it. What I don't understand is why
the software didn't pick it up," he told Reuters.
As its stock listing draws near, the company could come
under closer public scrutiny from Wall Street, said John Streur,
chief executive of Calvert Research and Management, which
focuses on socially responsible investing.
"From an investor perspective, it will be a major problem if
the headlines months from now reveal that the company is unable
to manage the risk of its platform," Streur told Reuters. Roblox
declined to respond to comment on that view.
(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Munsif Vengattil
Editing by Patrick Graham, Tomasz Janowski, Edward Tobin and