Why Are Chat Rooms So Dangerous?
By Filonia LeChat
Hackers revealing the latest bug fixes, heated arguments between PC and Mac users, families debating the best child-friendly vacation spots – the Internet is home to an endless number of small pockets of discussion on every topic imaginable. These virtual spaces to make conversation are called chat rooms, and they are found all over the Web. While it may be revelatory to find a group of other people interested in the same topic as yourself, participants should remain aware of certain dangers as they talk the talk.
Through a chat room, a predator can engage a child and attempt to entice him out of the chat room into a private room or, in the worst case scenario, into a real life situation. Because they’re hidden behind the screen, predators can easily put a child at ease through conversation, cute emoticons or avatars, and participation in the chat room’s theme. Children desperate for a friend may not suspect anything about their newest young pal until they’re completely ensnared in the predator’s web.
The U.S. Army’s famous slogan of “Be All You Can Be” becomes “Be Anyone You Can Be” in a chat room. Although some chat rooms require proof of age, a password or some kind of membership before entry, the majority allow entrants to just surf on into the site. Because of this, a person may misrepresent himself to match the chat room demographics, such as an older male trying to pass for a teenage girl in a chat room devoted to teenage girls. Predators seeking out victims to scam also operate in chat rooms due to their lack of monitoring. Criminals may use chat rooms to falsely solicit donations for sick children, sell items that never arrive or snare people in swindles and cons.
No Return on Investment
While some chat rooms offer valuable information, such as assistance with math homework or new recipes for vegan cooking, frequent chat room attendees may not realize the tremendous drain on their time until it’s too late. It can be easy to be swept into a chat room conversation that goes on for hours – or even days – and then realize you’ve gotten nothing out of it. The time spent face-to-computer takes away from real-life activities such as being outdoors, pursuing personal interests or time with family. The need to participate in chat rooms may even turn into chat room addiction, in which you feel the need to log in at all hours of the day, including those at work or in the middle of the night. Addiction can make you feel as if you're missing out on some valuable points made by other members or even that the group has turned its back on you because you're logged off.
Bullying and Betrayal
Chat rooms may produce crowd mentality – the power is in the numbers. The virtual meeting room brings solitary members together in a way that can lead to bullying and betrayals. A chat room member who voices an unpopular opinion may find the tide turning against her, with far more than just a couple of negative lines of type posted her way. Chat room conversation may lead to threatening emails, blog rants or even attempts to find and harass the person in real life. If a chat room member has offered up personal details, such as her “real life” first and last name, participants may cross the line and attempt to make contact.
The anonymity of a chat room may encourage participants to type about problems rather than seek out real-life assistance. A person in an abusive situation, for example, may find comfort venting about the problem online, but confessing in a chat room may offer a false sense of security. The atmosphere of a chat room may encourage members to share too much about their lives, opening the door to security risks and confidentiality issues, or contributing to procrastination for actually solving problems. Members may not realize that someone in the chat room may be recording or taking screen captures of the information.
Fionia LeChat is a technical writer whose major skill sets include the MS Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher), Photoshop, Paint, desktop publishing, design and graphics. LeChat has a Master of Science in technical writing, a Master of Arts in public relations and communications and a Bachelor of Arts in writing/English.