Dangers of Chatroulette

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When 17-year old Russian school boy Andrey Ternovisky had an idea for a small social media site, just for chatting to his friends really, in November 2009, having taken the idea from chatting on Skype, he spent 48 hours writinh the first version of a system he dubbed after watching POWs being forced to play Russian roulette The Deer Hunter, a film based on the Vietnam War.

Andrey could, at that time, have had absolutely no idea what his inventive mind had given birth to, either the best, or the worst explosion in social media phenomena since facebook The Chatroulette website, on first being launched, had about 500 visitors, but within weeks user numbers had risen to over a million, as s feeding frenzy took hold of the surfing public worldwide.

This free chat room was developed to get two strangers, from antwhere across the world, linked up for a chat, using webcams, communicating through audio, chat and text. Users begin chatting in random fashion with one another, being free to leave chats with current partners, moving on  to others just through  pressing the “next” option, a move known being nexted by regular users.

Andrey’s parents paid for the running of the site in the early days, but he had repaid them in no time, running things from his childhood bedroom, and helping to meet the costs via dating agency advertizing links. To say that, in a short life, Chatrulette has exploded into a global concern would be an understatement. Paris Hilton, Ashton Kutcher and Kelly Osborne are all celebrity users, and the band Faith No More streamed their performance, at the Soundwave festival in Australia, live on the site.

There are now millions of users, but there has to be a dark side to this whole thing, and dangers inherent in the face-to-face conversations that are involved. Some statistics that may be of interest are that, foe example, should you decide to go on site and surf for someone to chat to, almost half of those online will be in the USA, and 15% from France. Figures show that surfers are 90% male and 10% female, and one third of females taking part do so in groups.

Around one in twelve cam-shots feature groups of people, and about one in eight can feature something the kids should not be looking at, very often genitalia, as a percentage of users are unsavory characters, UK being the worst for this, closely followed by Turkey and Germany. Three quarters of users are between 20 and 30 years of age, one fifth under 20 and one tenth over 40. Most worrying, perhaps, is the sad fact that anuone with a little computer knowledge can get your IP address from this site.

Main advantages brought by Chatroulette involve social media participation and entertainment, obviously, as people can relate to others from anywhere around the globe, chat rooms covering any topic, various people taking part in an atmosphere of peaceful debate, participating in any dialogue. Both men and women socialize, usually at random, given that Chatroulette is not confined to specific areas, but the dangers are also obvious.

Could it be that the revolutions sweeping through middle eastern states have been partly fuelled by the phenomenal inter-activity that this website generates?  It must be far easier to whip a group of people into a revolutionary frenzy if they can actually see you, and who is ti say that Libyan dissidents were not offered such encouragement by Egyptian and Tunisian counterparts through Chatroulette connections?

There is an inevitability about the various social media websites having more and more influence over the lives of ordinary people, as the worldwide web becomes ever more widespread, and that these influences played a part in the rebellions currently sweeping through the Arab world, but how much more powerful must the message be, delivered online, when the recipients and the speakers are able to look into each other’s faces while the conversation is taking place?

George Orwell predicted, in the book 1984, that a thing very similar to this website would be a reality, run by the state to keep tabs on citizens, and even though Chatroulette is only intrusive if you choose to let it be so, the logical next step for any person in authority might be to make membership compulsory, with webcams all over the house in which you live. A fantasy scenario, true, but it is a niggling worry.

One cannot help but believe that the more this gets used by someone, the likelier are the chances of seeing something truly awful, like a real-time suicide or murder, because twisted souls will inevitably want to show such acts to the world. For my money, ChatRoulette smells like that something nasty lurking in the woodshed. We all want to look at it, but could easily end up wishing we had left well alone. 

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