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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chatroulette allows anyone with a webcam and Internet connection to instantly video chat with any other visitor anywhere in the world. Even if you don't have a web cam, you can still use the site and view the other people using it. All you do is go to the site's homepage, click a button to sync your webcam, and you are instantly connected randomly with other users. The roulette part comes in because if you don't want to chat with the person you are paired with, you just click Next and another person randomly appears. You can continue to click Next -- and so can the other user -- until you find someone you want to chat with. The site requires no registration or age verification. In our visits, and in news coverage about the site, most of the people using the site appear to be masturbating men -- often with the webcam focused on their genitals. The randomness of the site means that you just never know and can't control who you are going to interact with next. Besides the sex, there's also the danger of impressionable teens meeting total strangers -- and since there is no content filter on the site, you have no idea where the conversation could lead. Besides these risks there's also the ease with which rejection occurs. Anyone who visits will inevitably get passed aside for someone else. Finally, adding insult to injury, there are the people who visit just to mock other users.
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Is it any good?
The first time on CHATROULETTE is an unnerving experience. Almost immediately upon entering the site (there's no log in or registration) you're face-to-face with a total stranger whose saying "Hi" and asking you where you're from. It's an experience unlike anything else on the Internet right now. Created by a 17-year-old student in Russia, Chatroulette combinines the social networking of Facebook, with the webcam abilities of Skype this site takes full advantage of the anonymous capability of the Internet. You are just "You" and the person on the other end of the screen is just "Stranger." The site itself isn't much to look at, just bare bones text boxes and camera squares, but really that is enough in itself. The technology isn't new by any means, however this use definitely is. The scariness of seeing a string of strange men's naked torsos is enough to send most people fleeing from the site in terror, however there is something strangely addicting to this social "gambling" that speaks volumes to the human condition. Look for more regulated sites springing up that tweak this concept and reign in the content in the near future. But whatever you do, don't let your kids use it.
Online interaction: Web cams, microphone chatting, and texting onscreen seem to all lead to some questionable behavior. Of course, not everyone is looking for cheap thrills, but you don't have the power to weed people out too easily.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this site poses so many risks to teens. What basic internet safety rules does the site violate?
Families can talk about why people would choose to visit a site like this to talk to random people. Would there be a way to make this intriguing concept more safe? Do you think this site will remain completely annonymous and will it become regulated?
Families can talk about the changing ways we interact as a society. How does it change how you socialize if you can simply click "Next" and move on to the next person, without the need for an explanation or even a goodbye. Do you think being anonymous like this gives you the chance to behave in ways you wouldn't with someone you knew. Will this make it easier for people to be mean to one another? If you'll never see someone again, is it easier to not think of their feelings?
These webcam interactions are set up as private anonymous chats between one cam and another. This sometimes leads users to do things they normally wouldn't do online, like appear naked or do something sexual. Is this a good idea even for adults? Are these interactions really private? Is there the potential for these images and videos to be spread all over the internet via screen grabs and video recordings. Can a site like this be just as dangerous as sexting?
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