Extremists exploiting online games to spread ‘fear and hatred’, Dubai forum told

A UAE cybercrime chief has urged parents to keep tabs on their children’s gaming activities as an expert warned of online platforms being used by extremists to spread “fear and hatred”.

Colonel Saeed Al Hajri, director of the Cybercrime Department of the Dubai Police Department, spoke about the risks to young gamers from playing unsupervised.

dr. Noah Raford, head of global affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, spoke Monday at the Al Ameen Forum in the emirate about how hateful ideologies were spread through online games.

He cited the activities of the UK’s far-right group Patriotic Alternative, which had previously reportedly used Call of Duty gaming tournaments to lure young recruits.

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

These include Anders Breivik’s 2011 attack on the Norwegian island of Utoya and the shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“Dangerous people have used social media to spread ideas of fear and hatred for the past ten years, but they are now doing it in online games,” said Dr. Raford at the forum, organized by Al Ameen Service, part of the State Security Department in Dubai.

Colonel Al Hajri said that while the number of cybercrime due to online games remained relatively low, parents should remain vigilant.

The Dubai Police Department has received 26 complaints of online bullying and a further 21 reports of scams targeting children playing online games in the past three years.

“These reports came in via the e-crime platform. Children are not aware of the risks of unsupervised online games,” Colonel Al Hajri said during the event at the Museum of the Future.

“The crime rate due to online games in Dubai is still very low, but we need to be proactive and alert.”

dr.  Noah Raford, Head of Global Affairs at the Dubai Future Foundation, talked about how extremists are targeting the online gaming community.  Pawan Singh / The National

Omar Al Felasi, General Supervisor at Al Ameen Service, previously said: the national that children who play online games can often start conversations with others who may pretend to be teenagers, but in fact try to trick them into committing illegal activities.

dr. Raford said video games do not promote violence to a greater extent than TV or social media, but that parents should play a key role in determining how long children play each day.

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

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

“Start a conversation about video games with your kids. Make sure tomorrow’s games are about healing and hope rather than 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

Advantages and disadvantages of gaming

dr. Nadia Buhannad, a psychological and educational consultant, told of a recent incident in Dubai where a 14-year-old Emirati boy physically assaulted his mother for refusing 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 low grades in school by taking his phone.”

She said prolonged play can lead to emotional and psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.

But when played in moderation, gaming can have a positive effect, she said.

“Online games aren’t bad, but it’s how people abuse them,” said Dr. Buhannad. “It stimulates the brain and develops the 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 last year, led by the University of Limerick in Ireland, found that video games can help reduce depression and anxiety.

dr. Raford also spoke about 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 advantage by adding billions of dirhams to Dubai’s economy.”

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

Updated: September 20, 2022, 2:38 AM

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