Kids' social network Habbo at centre of paedophile sex storm following C4 report

One of the world's largest social networks for younger Internet users has suspended all conversation features today after a Channel 4 report (bottom) aired last night which labelled the online community as a "paedophile haven" and highlighted the prevalence of pornographic and sexually explicit chat in the game.

Finnish-owned Habbo is now frantically trying to defend itself, after a Channel 4 News producer who spent two months on the social network undercover posing as a young girl revealed her worrying findings on national television yesterday.

Rachel Seifert claimed that she played the game some 50 times and encountered chats of a sexually explicit nature every time.

"Within two minutes I was being asked individually, ‘do you have a webcam?' I was asked to strip, fully naked, and asked what I would do on a webcam," she said.

Habbo is Sims-like social networking game popular amongst children and teenagers that boasts in the region of 10 million unique users every month. Set in a virtual hotel, users create a custom avatar and then interact with others via a central chat feature and can also exchange virtual commodities to improve their rooms.

Having muted conversation on the Habbo network indefinitely, the CEO of parent company Sulake, Paul LaFontaine, issued a statement on the game's blog.

"I am greatly saddened following reports of abusive behaviours amongst a very small part of the Habbo community. We are reviewing our long-term plans and would like to thank our millions of loyal users for their support. Our internal investigation is currently on-going," the post read.

Habbo's official message to parents, in place prior to the revelations, says it is committed to "providing a safe social environment for all players" and that it is staffed by "trained, adult moderators who take action against wrongdoers."

To compound LaFontaine's woes, one of the firm's main investors, Balderton, is rumoured to pulling out, while high street giants WHSmith, Tesco, and GAME are said to withdrawing Habbo gift cards from their sales range.

Habbo has been linked with child sex allegations in the past - last year, an Essex man and convicted paedophile was sentenced to seven years in jail after admitting to grooming young girls he met in the game. The network has also made headlines for the wrong reasons for providing a platform for online scammers.

Despite being aimed at younger web users, a brief ITProPortal investigation showed that it was possible for a male user who listed his birthdate as 1968 to proceed with registration, and it is not clear if any specific measures exist to prevent predators from signing up for the site.