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Malaysia's children take to online gaming platform Roblox for virtual pro-Palestine protests

SINGAPORE: Thousands of Malaysians, many of them children, have taken to the virtual world of Roblox to attend pro-Palestine protests, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A video uploaded onto TikTok by user “cikguzyd” – belonging to Malaysian content creator Afiq Mat Zaid who reportedly organised these protests – shows hundreds of characters gathered at an open-air site on the popular online gaming platform.

Most of these online characters were seen wielding Palestine flags in the video, while a handful among them were also holding Malaysian flags.

Banners reading “Solidarity Untukmu Palestine” – Malay for Solidarity for Palestine – are also seen at the online protest grounds.

The video is layered with a clip of Mr Afiq reciting religious prayers. He told Malaysian news outlet Says that the protest started on Oct 21 and he felt obliged to “raise awareness about humanitarian issues, particularly the ongoing Palestinian crisis” among young Malaysians. 

Various videos of the virtual rallies have gone viral online on platforms such as TikTok, with Mr Afiq’s video garnering 3.2 million views as of Friday night (Oct 27)  since it was uploaded on Monday. Another Roblox rally video he posted on Tuesday has been viewed 2.6 million times by Friday. 

Mr Afiq told Malaysian news outlet the Star that a 15-year-old friend had created a server on Roblox in a bid to “do something for Palestine” and Mr Afiq decided to hold a virtual rally there.

He said each server can host 200 players at a time and there are plans to create more servers. Others can also watch the rally through a livestream on Facebook.

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CNBC reported on Thursday that the virtual protest area itself had been visited more than 275,000 times, although Roblox told the American news website that this count could include multiple visits by a single user.

CNBC said that attendees could choose between virtually raising a Palestinian flag and a Malaysian flag, or not raising a flag at all.

It is unclear how young the participants of the online rallies are, although there are multiple reports of them being children.

Some parents also posted on social media about their children attending the Roblox protest.

This includes Malaysian actor Adam Corrie, who posted a video on Wednesday of his son participating in one on X (formerly Twitter).

Data published online by Roblox in December 2022 showed that almost half of its users (45 per cent) were aged 12 years old or younger. 

Almost one in four (23 per cent) of its users were based in Asia Pacific.

A Roblox spokesperson told CNBC that it is aware of multiple pro-Palestinian protests on its platform. 

The spokesperson added: “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.

“We have an expert team of thousands of moderators along with automated detection tools in place to monitor our platform and will take swift action against any content or individuals found to be in violation of our standards.”

Among the guidelines in its Community Standards – which is published on the Roblox website – the company states that it:

Has a zero-tolerance policy for content or behaviour that incites, condones, supports, glorifies, or promotes any terrorist or extremist organisation or individual (foreign or domestic), and their ideology, or actions;Does not allow content or behaviour that supports, glorifies, or promotes hate groups, their ideologies, or actions; andProhibits the discussion or depiction of certain political content, including “inflammatory content related to real-world border, territorial, or jurisdictional relationships”

In a separate interview with TechCrunch, Roblox said that it monitors the use of the word “Jews” across the platform to protect it from being used in a pejorative way, which would violate community guidelines.

While the phrase “Free Palestine” is censored, other similar shows of solidarity with Palestine – such as the phrase “Palestine will be free” – are not, TechCrunch reported.

Regardless, Mr Afiq, the protests’ organiser, told the Star that he is mindful of Roblox’s community guidelines.

“I have to remind players that our purpose is to hold a peaceful gathering and we do not want to spread hatred. There will be no swearing or negativity. We have administrators in each server to monitor behaviour,” he said, adding that users would be kicked out of the virtual protest if they acted inappropriately.

Still, Mr Afiq said he was touched to receive such positive feedback for the rally.

“I think it’s also important to share how young people want to do their part to inspire change and spread awareness online.”

The virtual protest is one in a rising number of shows of solidarity emerging nationwide in Malaysia.

Earlier this week, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim joined 16,000 pro-Palestinian supporters at a gathering in the country’s capital of Kuala Lumpur to condemn Israel’s “barbaric” acts in the Gaza Strip, and to denounce its Western supporters.

On Thursday, Malaysia’s Education Ministry announced that Palestine Solidarity Week would be held nationwide from Oct 29 to Nov 3, at all educational institutions under the ministry’s purview.

On Friday morning, Mr Anwar called for better control of the solidarity programme, amid reports of students and teachers carrying toy guns and mock firearms at these school events.

“We discussed this in the Cabinet meeting. We encourage schools to do this (show solidarity) but we do not force them,” said Mr Anwar.

“We have to control it, so it won’t become a problem.”

This article was originally published in TODAY.

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