Extremists exploit online games to spread ‘fear and hatred’, says Dubai forum


A UAE cybercrime chief has urged parents to monitor their children’s gaming activity as an expert warns of online platforms used by extremists to spread “fear and hatred”.

Colonel Saeed Al Hajri, director of the Dubai Police’s Cybercrime Department, spoke about the risks posed to young gamers if they play unsupervised.

Speaking at the Al Ameen Forum in the emirate on Monday, Dr Noah Raford, head of global affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, explained how hateful ideologies are being spread through online games.

He cited the activities of the British far-right group, Patriotic Alternative, which previously allegedly used Call of Duty gaming tournaments to attract young recruits.

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

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

“Dangerous people have used social media for the past two decades to spread ideas of fear and hate, but they are now doing it in online games,” Dr Raford told the forum, organized by Al Ameen Service. , which is part of the Department of State Security in Dubai.

Colonel Al Hajri said that while the number of cybercrimes resulting from online games remains relatively low, parents should remain vigilant.

Dubai Police have received 26 complaints of online harassment and 21 other reports of scams targeting children playing online games over the past three years.

“These reports were received through the e-crime platform. Children are unaware of the risks of unsupervised online games,” Col Al Hajri said at the event, held at the Museum. from the future.

“The number of crimes resulting from online gambling in Dubai is still very low, but we need to be proactive and alert.”

Omar Al Felasi, general supervisor of the Al Ameen service, previously said The National that kids playing online games can often spark conversations with other people who pose as teenagers but are actually trying to trick them into committing illegal activities.

Dr Raford said video games don’t promote violence to any greater extent than television or social media, but parents should play a key role in deciding how much daily play time children have.

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

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

“Start having a conversation about video games with your kids. Make sure the games of tomorrow are about healing and hope rather than fear and separation.”

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

Advantages and disadvantages of the game

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

“I have 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 poor grades in school by taking his phone.”

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

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

“Online games aren’t bad, but that’s how people abuse them,” Dr Buhannad said. “They stimulate the brain and develop a child’s skills and imagination, but with normal use, like five to seven hours a week.”

A recent study from Georgia State University found that playing games improves brain activity and aids in decision-making.

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

Dr. Raford also discussed the economic benefits of the rise of the game, including the growth of the metaverse.

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

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

Online gambling is a growing industry in the United Arab Emirates. The market in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt is expected to reach $3.14 billion by 2025, according to estimates by California-based market research and consulting firm Niko Partners.

Updated: September 20, 2022, 02:38

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