Chat Roulette: Chat + Video = Obscene

I’ve tracked a lot of online trends but the newest craze to sweep the Internet

is one of the most shocking developments to date. It’s the website Chat Roulette and it instantly pairs strangers from around the world in a “chat and webcam” interface that allows users to talk to, write, see and hear each other.

I’m told the website was not made to be dangerous, but because of its simple nature, it allows anyone (including kids) to easily turn on their webcam and instantly see and talk to strangers. As you might surmise, a majority of the pictures via webcams contain obscene images, including nudity and sexual activity, truly shocking when you consider it is all in real time.

I first discovered Chat Roulette when Fox News ran a story on it and featured NetLingo as the source for parents to stay up-to-date with online language (watch the TV show here!). But it was a friend of mine who accurately brought the obscenity of this service to light.

When she told me the following story, I was stunned and I realized the best way to describe Chat Roulette to you is to tell her first-hand account. Two things should be noted: (1) this story is not for children 12 or under and (2) the narrator is my modern day, 43-year-old best friend who is an artist and not much shocks her, but she is also a parent and when she saw Chat Roulette, she was mortified. “What happened?” I asked. Here’s what she said…

“I went over to my boyfriend’s house and it was the usual scene: his youngest son (Franky, age 16) was at his computer making crazy, weird music while on Facebook, and my boyfriend (Allen, age 48) and his oldest son (Jake, age 19) were hanging around his computer looking at different t-shirt sites because they’re going into an online business together. So it’s the typical post-modern, nuclear family evening where we’re all gathered around the dinner table but everyone is on their computers, and suddenly Jake says to me “have you heard of chat roulette?” I said no and my boyfriend was like “OMG, you’ve got to see this, it’s unreal!” (at which point I got the distinct impression that he had probably looked at it a couple of times himself). So we logged on to chatroulette.com and honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever be the same….

Once you get there you have to create an account and login, so while Jake is doing that, we position ourselves so that he’s sitting in the middle with the laptop, and I’m on one side and Allen’s on the other, so whoever he’s talking to can’t see us but we can see the screen. Bascially when you get there, you land on this page and it’s crudely set up like IM and there’s a video camera, and so he starts by clicking through to the first person. That’s how it works: you click a button and it randomly takes you to someone else who is logged on with their video camera and viewing and being viewed on this site. The first thing I noticed is that most of the people on there are old men! Not only that, but they’re just sitting there, mind numb, staring into the screen, waiting for someone to talk to them. Allen was like “it’s so sad, look at this, these people are sad, it’s pathetic” and we all agreed.

Of course Jake doesn’t want to talk to these men, he wants to talk to girls or other teens, so he keeps shuffling through chat partners, when the next thing I noticed is that along with old men waiting for someone to talk to them, it is also mainly men masturbating. Not only that, these men have positioned themselves to fill up the entire screen! We were literally watching strangers jack off as up close and personal as possible! We couldn’t believe it, we’d scream, and he’d click the button to take us to the next anonymous, random, who knows who, chatter. We must have seen at least 10 masturbators within 10 minutes! :-0

There were also lots of screens that just had pictures or an image in front of the webcam, like a twot-shot, but it wasn’t a person, it was a video that was looped over and over again showing a woman masturbating. We were like WTF? Someone put up a looped video of a vagina? What is the world coming too? It was unreal! And we did see young girls too (not really older women but mainly young girls) naked and half naked. I couldn’t believe how hideous it all was. In addition to being able to see everything, you can also chat with these people by IM, and even talk to them which also means they can hear everything you’re saying. Talk about online privacy gone awry.

Finally Jake stopped on a girl that looked to be about 15 who was a little on the heavy side and basically topless (she had positioned herself so you couldn’t yet see her nipples) and they had a small interaction: she said hi and asked him if he was horny, he said IDK, she said she could hear music in the background, and he typed I can dance, and she said let me see you dance. Of course we’re all ROTFL in the background, and suddenly Jake rips off his shirt and starts dancing, at which point it was the girl who decided to shuffle away from him! Too funny.

Then we landed on a chat screen with these 3 teen guys who were wearing sunglasses, smoking pot, and listening to loud music. So Jake was like “Yo” and they were like “Hey” and then Franky ran and got this weird walking cane that looks like a shrunken voodoo head and everyone was laughing so hard that Allen and I accidentally leaned into the video camera radius and the boys were like “OMG, who’s that old man?” And then clicked away and they were gone.

Here’s the deal: I’m an artist and a parent and not a lot of things shock me, but with this, not only did the people that were on there and what they were doing alarm me, but the complete uncensored access of it filled me with a kind of distress. Granted there’s a disclaimer at the beginning, but despite the warning, all kinds of pornographic and inappropriate behavior is going on. As a parent of a teen, I was horrified to realize that my son could not only be exposed or participating in this, but also abetting other minors in online porn (or pron as the kids say). Those girls were not adults. The only adults on there were the old men, waiting, staring mind numb at the screen probably for hours. It was creepy.

It also scared me because I know what I was like when I was a teen (which was 25 years ago) and if me and my friends would’ve known about this site back then, it would not have been good a good thing, at all. Frankly, we would’ve been exposed to appalling things which at that age can be damaging, and we would’ve ended up in trouble. The fact that kids are so much more modern these days, and have such easy, unrestricted access to such vulgar images is frightening. If ever there’s been a time for you, the parent, to stay informed about exactly this kind of stuff, it is now!” - Special thanks to my friend for sharing her story!

Here are the facts: Chat Roulette started in late 2009 but didn’t gain worldwide attention until early 2010, when several thousand people at any moment could be found on the chat service. It’s for this reason, many parental groups say kids should not be on Chat Roulette at all (or any video chat service for that matter). While the website has a “report this user” feature, there is no way to protect children 100 percent of the time. In addition, to keep them from partaking in any kind of obscene Internet meeting, kids should not be allowed to have computers and webcams in their bedrooms.

The solution is not filters and monitoring software alone, these cannot guarantee your kids will not see obscene content online. Parents must be proactive in personally monitoring Internet usage. And as my friend said, moms and dads need to stay up-to-date so you can have open, educated conversations with your kids about the risks involved when communicating in the online world. That’s why NetLingo offers a subscription service called "Get With The Program" specifically for parents and professionals. Launching next month, June 2010, sign up here to get an update! In the meantime, check out Chat Roulette if you must, but don’t say you haven’t been warned!
HCC batman,
Erin

Erin Jansen is an expert in online communication. She is the founder of NetLingo.com and author of “NetLingo: The Internet Dictionary” and “NetLingo: The List” - the largest collection of text and chat acronyms. Erin writes to educate, entertain and empower people worldwide about the language used in the online world. In addition to updating the online dictionary, she offers several free Word of the Day emails, a blog and a subscription service to help you improve your Internet IQ ;-) Learn more at www.netlingo.com



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