Announcement - Online Safety & Discord
Dear Communeighty, we want to fill you in about a serious topic that came up over the course of the last week, mostly in our Discord server.
🔴 Content warning: The following text brings up the topic of child grooming 🔴
🔸 What happened? 🔸
Last week, numerous conflicts over a suspected child groomer playing Horse Reality sprung up in our Discord server. Emotions were running high and many players voiced their legitimate concerns. Because it was no longer possible to moderate these chats effectively, we closed our Discord server. A long announcement was later posted on the remaining Discord channel to give context information (see further below).
Understandably, the situation has been disturbing for everyone involved. Most of us play Horse Reality to get away from real-life troubles for a while, and this situation has highlighted a very real issue in the middle of the game. Many are worried about the safety of everybody, and especially minors, on Horse Reality.
We want to do everything we can to protect our players. To start with, we’ve created an online safety page at the footer of HR that outlines some tips on how to stay safe online as well as summarises information for parents. Please give it a read, spread it! And let us know via our contact form if something is missing in this guide, as we will continuously update it.
To reiterate something stated in the online safety guide: It is the sad reality that people with ill intent will play games such as ours. Even if we ban such players, there is no way to fully rule out that they’d come back. It makes it all the more important that players who notice shady behaviour report it to our team via the contact form or by reaching out to a moderator in DMs.
🔸 The Full Discord Announcement 🔸
Note: The following text was first published in our official discord server on September 9 2022.
Recently, we received reports concerning a child groomer playing Horse Reality. Numerous conflicts arose around this topic, with claims that the game is letting this person play despite proof of their behaviour, even that we are protecting them. Callouts and insults against the accused player, other community members, and team members happened. We want to clarify this situation, as well as our options and expectations regarding such cases.
Two years ago, we received a report of a child-grooming incident on another browser game. A link to a Horse Reality profile was provided with the same username as the child groomer used on that other game, which gave rise to the suspicion that it is the same person. The evidence we received involved Facebook posts and DMs from a private Discord conversation between the previously mentioned groomer and another person.
A report of that kind is of the highest priority, and will immediately be given our full attention. We reviewed the information to verify if the person on Discord is indeed connected to the Horse Reality account. We also investigated the accused player to see if grooming was taking place on our platform by looking at the user history, forum activity, and private messages. If either one of these could be confirmed, we would take action immediately. However, no proof was found or submitted that could definitely tie the Horse Reality profile to the child groomer incident.
There was no verification system for our Discord server back then, and the user never connected their Discord name to their Horse Reality account. No proof was found of shady messages being sent within the game. In all, it was not enough for us to justify banning the person - all we had was the overlapping username, which is not sufficient.
Reports recently started flooding in about the same situation again. Players are concerned about the safety of children on Horse Reality and ask how the game aims to protect them. Many of you felt we should have banned the account when it was initially reported. There were legitimate concerns that we were harbouring a groomer, or choosing to be inactive about it.
We continuously requested proof, which many Discord users claimed to have, including IP addresses connecting the accounts, but these were never presented to us. Players claimed that they had sent us proof and that we should take action based on that. However, until then, we had yet to receive information that connected the Discord account(s) with the Horse Reality profile. The screenshots provided to us showed us that the person on Discord mentioned their username on the different horse game. It is not verifiable whether the same username in Horse Reality is the same person, as anyone can pick a username, and it could easily be a coincidence - someone simply started a Horse Reality account with that username, completely unaware of its history.
Over the course of September 8th, the atmosphere in the Discord server grew more and more angry and resentful, with a mob mentality forming, including callouts of the accused player and hateful speech being directed towards the moderators. Brigading is something we absolutely do not tolerate, and as such we made the decision to shut the Discord down at around 01:00 (GMT+2) the night of September 9th for the foreseeable future, while we figure out what we can actively do to protect your online safety, and the well-being of everyone involved.
To be clear: We do not stand for child grooming of any kind, but also not for a lynch mentality. Being accused of being a child groomer is an extremely severe allegation, and one that we take seriously. We do not want children to have their lives ruined by a dangerous individual. At the same time, being accused of being a child groomer if innocent is in itself devastating, and we can not ban a user based on hearsay or suspicion alone. This is why proof of such an allegation is crucial.
Throughout September 9th, we have been receiving more screenshots and documents from other players regarding the accused groomer, containing information we did not have prior. At 13:30 (GMT +2) on September 9th we received the proof we had requested, and were finally able to verify that the user on Discord and the other horse game was the same user on Horse Reality. Considering we have the needed information now, the user was banned permanently. We thank everyone who privately sent us evidence, and apologise if we gave off an unapproachable impression regarding such situations.
Anyone involved has the right to be upset and uncomfortable. This situation has been disturbing for everyone. We are glad to say the player is now removed from our platform. However, even when we ban such a player, there is no way to fully rule out that they find a way to come back. This is a sad reality for us. It makes it all the more important to be alert of shady messages being sent and to report them to our team. If we discover evidence of child grooming or any other illegal activity on our platform we report it to the police who can investigate and has authority to take proper legal action.
What can you do to protect your online safety, or that of a child?
If you think someone is being groomed on Horse Reality, please report this to [email protected] with screenshots of the conversation as well as any other supporting information towards the claim.
If this person is active on other platforms, make sure to report them to those platforms as well. Last but not least, go to the police and file a police report against the groomer. If this took place on Horse Reality, we are entitled to report any illegal facts to the police to help them with their investigation.
Get help here:
United States: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ceos/report-violations
🔸 Questions & Answers 🔸
If you have any questions about this topic, please ask it in the comments. Our team will add your questions here and try to answer them. Please consider that this may take us some time.
We will start by adding some questions we’ve frequently been asked over the past days.
So you didn’t do anything until something happened on Horse Reality?
Our luck as well as our problem in this entire situation was that to the best of our knowledge nothing ever happened on Horse Reality. The reported user profile was looked into extensively, both now and when first reported, and monitored during the time in between. Now that we have received proof that the person behind the username was the same in both games, we have banned them as a pre-emptive measure for the things they did 2 years ago on the other game.
So you only care if something happens on Horse Reality?
Of course not. But we can’t investigate a user in another game, and we can’t ban a user for having the same username in our game as someone in another game without first verifying that it is the same person in real life.
Why was the Discord announcement not posted in the news?
At the time, we only published it there since most conflicts had been happening on Discord. However, a child groomer is a threat that directly affects the security in the game, which is why now that the weekend is over, we want to talk about what happened and provide clarity.
Why did you accuse people that were trying to help of a ‘lynch mentality’?
What we were trying to describe is that many people called for punishment without trial - to just ban this person without prior investigation of whether they’re the same person.
In retrospect, we would have rather written just that, instead of throwing around this very loaded word. We apologise for this choice, as we also weren’t aware of all the connotations this word brings with it. However, it is the word we used, and we think we shouldn’t edit our statement to cover up mistakes we made.
Why were people banned from the discord, and can they get unbanned?
Over the past weeks, increasingly heated discussions happened frequently in our discord. Anybody who got banned during that time has broken our rules in some way, typically by displaying disrespectful behaviour, harassing others, or public callouts. As stated in our rules, in special situations our team members can deviate from the standard protocol that our strike/warning system usually follows. But these were all very intense situations where emotions were flying high, and we understand that these nights may not have been reflective of anybody’s usual behaviour within our discord. Since we suspended our discord server to an announcements-only server for the time being, we will decline any appeal for a received ban for now. If we decide to lift the suspension, those who got banned are welcome to reach out to us again to appeal the ban, and we will review their situation.
Will you increase the minimum age for Horse Reality?
Horse Reality was created with the vision in mind to create a horse game for grown-ups. However, in recent years as our community grew we have noticed that younger players also fell in love with our focus on genetics. This created a partially large gap in ages, and we are looking into solutions on how to resolve this and create an environment where adults as well as our younger audience is safe and can feel comfortable. Raising the minimum age is one possible solution, another would be to introduce parental controls. We are currently in the process of deciding which next steps to take.
When will a block feature come to Horse Reality?
In light of the recent events, introducing more sophisticated community tools like a blocking or an in-game reporting feature seem more important than ever. We are currently working out how we can add those, but don’t have an ETA just yet.
Why don’t you share the IP address of this person?
It is illegal to share private user information with the public or third parties without the consent of that user. The only time this can be done is when law enforcement has requested this information, and they too wouldn’t disclose the information publicly until they have gone through court proceedings and found a person guilty.
Questions relating to design changes / game updates
Thank you for providing your feedback. This however is a post on a different topic so we won’t go into detail here. We have recently made some changes to the horse overview page to incorporate some of your feedback, and more changes are planned! The relevant threads are this one to report your bugs and this one to present your ideas. Thank you!
🔸 Discussion Guidelines 🔸
We understand that this is a situation where emotions are flying high, and where things didn’t go the ideal way. You are welcome to express your thoughts, emotions and feedback in the comments, but please keep our game rules in mind.
Remain civil and constructive. Do not spread allegations or rumours, no public callouts. If you suspect another player of bad behaviour, please contact us in private to file a report. You can message a moderator or use our contact form at any time.