Q: I've heard some talk about a site called ChatRoulette. What is it?
A: ChatRoulette is a video chat program that allows users with a Web cam to randomly connect and video chat with a steady stream of chatters all over the world. Participants using a Web cam can see a video of a person waiting to chat on the screen and either party can decide to stay and chat or hit the next button and move on to another user.
This is not a place for children. This chat program allows users to connect with complete strangers around the world through video and text chatting. The site's content is not filtered, censored or closely moderated and with millions of users connecting, instantly monitoring interactions that sometimes last just a few seconds between chatters is almost impossible. The site relies on user reports to identify and report inappropriate behavior, however it is not clear how those reported offenses are dealt with.
Parents should also know:
Age suggested, but not verified. While the site states that users must be 16 to participate, there is no age verification, profile page or even an acceptable use agreement for participants. Simply clicking the "Allow" button gets the process going.
Lots of sex. In several test visits, about 50 percent of the chatters I saw positioned the camera on their groin, were partially naked or completely nude. Some ChatRoulette users are just roaming out of curiosity, however, many others are exposing themselves and there is a significant amount of nudity, suggestive poses and sexual activity occurring on the site.
Others are out there. Parents should also be aware that this is not the only video chat program out there. ChatHopper is one of several other instant video chat programs and many ChatRoulette copycats have started to pop up.
Filters can help. Parents can use filters to block chat rooms
and known offensive sites-a free basic filter can be installed at
Parents can also use built-in parental control software to block the sites on their operating system and browser-find out how to configure yours by visiting eHow.com.
Blocking isn't enough. Filtering this site and others that may be offensive is a good idea, but not enough to keep kids from being exposed. As kids grow, access to unfiltered content on computers outside your home is inevitable and children need to develop good judgment when it comes to participating online. The best chance at helping your child avoid this and other potentially offensive sites is to talk about it, set boundaries in your home and continue the conversation on a regular basis.
Sharon Cindrich is a mother of two tech-savvy kids from Virginia Beach. Learn more at sharoncindrich.com.
See more of Sharon's stories here.