Roblox is the latest stage for virtual protests of the Israel-Hamas war

Roblox is the latest stage for virtual protests of the Israel-Hamas war

Last week, Roblox players from all over the world met virtually to support Palestinians amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Several videos of at least one protest on Roblox were circulated on X, formerly known as Twitter. In screen recordings of the events, avatars are seen holding Palestinian flags and marching together in the virtual world.

At its core, Roblox is a gaming center made up of user-created original games and options to chat with other players. Roblox calls itself one of the biggest virtual economies on Earth and said there are millions of “experiences” or user-generated games and communities across the platform. The platform encourages creativity with its predominantly preteen and teenage users — groups can collaborate on game rules or host events, like protests.

According to a 2022 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) annual report , an estimated 45% of Roblox users are 12 years old or younger and 60% are 16 years old or younger. Roblox is more than just a place where kids can play games; the platform is also social. Kids host their birthday parties on Roblox; some teachers even use the platform in the classroom to teach tech game design.

Multiple parents told PCMag in April that while they knew there were safety concerns with having young children interact with strangers online, they ultimately considered Roblox to be a good bonding experience between their child and their siblings or friends.

Beyond what the community players are finding on Roblox, the platform is also shifting into becoming a space for young people across the world to use for advocacy.

One TikToker explained that the protests were happening on a specific server within Roblox called “Solidarity untukmu Palestine,” which translates to “Solidarity for you Palestine” in Malay. Malaysia’s peaceful assembly law prevents anyone under the age of 15 from participating in rallies.

The server, which was created specifically for the recent protests, has been visited almost 400,000 times since it was created on Oct. 14. Others using the platform have captured videos of pro-Israel protests happening on Roblox as well.

A representative from Roblox confirmed to In The Know by Yahoo that the company was aware of the protests on the platform in early October.

“We are deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy unfolding in Israel and Gaza, and our hearts go out to those who are impacted in the area or who have loved ones, family and friends in the region,” Roblox said in an official statement. “While our Community Standards allow for expressions of solidarity, we do not allow for content that endorses or condones violence, promotes terrorism or hatred against individuals or groups, or calls for supporting a specific political party.”

This is not the first time Roblox has dealt with users bringing real-world issues into its virtual world. In 2022, the company had to shut down two user-generated games War on Larkiv: Ukraine and Battle for Ukraine. Both games allowed players to choose sides between Russia and Ukraine and then play as soldiers. According to the BBC, Roblox took down the games after a BBC reporter who had observed the game contacted the platform.

Roblox is also not the first gaming platform to host virtual protests formed by its young users. In response to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Club Penguin players gathered outside a virtual coffee shop to protest President Donald Trump. In 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests were being organized all over the world, people were also going to “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” to customize signs and clothing in support of the movement.

According to experts, parents should be open to having conversations with their children about these virtual protests — not fear them.

“Encouraging young students to participate in protests can help them develop their political awareness, civic engagement and social responsibility,” Dr. Ketan Parmar, a psychiatrist and mental health expert at ClinicSpots, told In The Know by Yahoo. “It can also foster their sense of empowerment, self-esteem and solidarity with others who share their cause.”

However, psychologist Mary Ann Covey told In The Know that it’s critical that children, especially as young as some of the Roblox users are, understand what they are protesting for or against.

“It is also important to let them know that not everyone will agree with them and emphasize the importance of peaceful protests,” Covey added.

Is Roblox the future of activism?

During the Women’s March in 2017, activists created the Disability March online movement — a virtual protest contingent of the ones happening across the U.S. — that allowed people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to participate.

For some of Roblox users, virtual attendance presents an option for participants who couldn’t attend in-person protests to support Palestinians. In one viral X post, a user shared that the user’s 15-year-old cousin couldn’t join an in-person protest, so she attended one on Roblox instead.

Virtual protests also offer anonymity. Roblox users do not necessarily need to use their names or photos in creating their avatars.

Video game streamer Afiq Mat Zaid, better known as Cikgu Zyd and who is credited with creating one of the Roblox protests on Oct. 21, said he was inspired by a 15-year-old gamer friend who built out the initial server.

“It was unexpected because it was meant for a small group of local players on Roblox,” Zaid said about the virality of the protests. “I think it’s also important to share how young people want to do their part to inspire change and spread awareness online.”

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