Extremists exploiting online games to spread 'fear and hate', Dubai forum told

Cybercrime chief urges parents to supervise gaming activity

Delegates during the Al Ameen Forum about security threats and challenges of online gaming held at Museum of the Future in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
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A UAE cybercrime chief has urged parents to monitor their children's gaming activity as an expert warned of online platforms being used by extremists to spread "fear and hate".

Col Saeed Al Hajri, director of Dubai Police's Cybercrime Department, spoke of the risks posed to young gamers if playing unsupervised.

Speaking on Monday at the Al Ameen Forum in the emirate, Dr Noah Raford, chief of global affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, told how hateful ideologies were being spread by way of online games.

He cited the activities of the UK's far-right group, Patriotic Alternative, which has previously been reported to have used Call of Duty gaming tournaments to lure young recruits.

Researchers for Tech Against Terrorism, a UN-backed campaign, last year discovered how right-wing extremists had recreated playable versions of infamous terrorist acts on Roblox, a popular online game creation system.

These included Anders Breivik’s 2011 attack on the Norwegian island of Utoya and the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Dangerous people have used social media over the past decade or two to spread ideas of fear and hate, but they do it in online games now," Dr Raford told the forum, organised by Al Ameen Service, part of the State Security Department in Dubai.

Col Al Hajri said that while numbers of cybercrimes resulting from online games remained relatively low, parents should remain vigilant.

Dubai Police received 26 complaints about online bullying and another 21 reports about scams targeting children playing online games in the past three years.

“These reports were received via e-crime platform. Children are not aware of the risks of online games without supervision," said Col Al Hajri at the event, held at the Museum of the Future.

"The number of crimes resulting from online games in Dubai is still very low but we should be proactive and alert.”

Dr Noah Raford, chief of global affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, told how extremists are targeting the online gaming community. Pawan Singh / The National

Omar Al Felasi, general supervisor at Al Ameen Service, previously told The National that children playing online games can often spark up conversations with others who may be posing as a teenager but in actual fact are trying to lure them into committing illegal activities.

Dr Raford said video games did not promote violence to a greater extent than TV or social media, but parents should play a key role in deciding for how long children play each day.

"It is not about the game itself but it’s about how people use the games,” he said.

“Online games are the social media of the future. Excessive use can increase anxiety and depression. You don’t want to blame the tool but how the tool is being used.

“Start having a conversation about video games with your kids. Ensure tomorrow's games are about healing and hope instead of fear and separation.”

Col Saeed Al Hajri, director of the Cybercrime Combatting Department, speaks at the Al Ameen Forum in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Pros and cons of gaming

Dr Nadia Buhannad, a psychological and educational consultant, recounted a recent incident in Dubai in which a 14-year-old Emirati boy physically assaulted his mother because she refused to buy an online game for him.

“I received many cases related to addiction to online games or phones," she said. "In another incident, another Emirati boy damaged his father’s car because his father punished him for his low marks in school by taking his phone away."

She said playing for long periods can lead to emotional and psychological issues such as anxiety and depression.

But if played in moderation, gaming could have a positive effect, she said.

“Online games are not bad but it is how people misuse them," Dr Buhannad said. "It stimulates the brain and develops the child's skills and imagination but with normal usage, like five to seven hours per week.”

A recent study by Georgia State University found that playing games enhances brain activity and helps with decision-making skills.

A study last year, led by the University of Limerick in Ireland, found that video games can help lower depression and anxiety.

Dr Raford also spoke of the economic benefits of the rise of gaming, including the growth of the metaverse.

“Video games and the metaverse will be a positive development for society," he said.

"With Dubai’s metaverse strategy, there will be an economic benefit by adding billions of dirhams to Dubai's economy.”

Online gaming is a fast-growing industry in the UAE. The market across Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt is expected to be worth $3.14bn by 2025, California-based market research and consulting firm Niko Partners estimates.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 2:38 AM
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