02 March 2010

Strange(r) Things on the Web: Chatroulette

As I said in my intro to NaBloPoMo, strange(r) is a topic that we as parents are always concerned with. Case in point: Chatroulette.

If you haven't heard about this yet, you likely will very, very soon. Chatroulette, as described by the Associated Press, "randomly links users with strangers who could be anywhere in the world. If you don't like the person who pops up on the screen, just click 'Next.' Repeat." And it was built by a 17-year-old from Russia.

Think of it as channel surfing, except with real people. Everyone's got a webcam, so you're essentially peeking in on people at random times. Its equal parts chatroom, Facebook and voyeurism. And that's where the problems begin.

You see, for every quirky techno-geek you may find singing a song about apples ala Randy Newman, you can also find yourself face-to-face with a perv who could be introducing you to his "lil' buddy." Pretty scary stuff, huh? That's what experts like Dr. Keith Ablow are saying about Chatroulette:

Parents should keep all children off the site because it's much too dangerous for children. It's a predator's paradise. This is one of the worst faces of the Internet that I've seen. It's disconnecting human relationships rather than connecting them.

Or how about Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children:

(It's) a huge red flag. This is extreme social networking. Absolutely random. No limits. Graphic sexual content. This is the last place parents want their kids to be ... A lot of kids are doing it in groups because they find it funny ... But you want to talk to them about what they're seeing, because who does that? Who just exposes themselves to a webcam and then waits for a pervert to come along?

Who indeed.

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