Protecting children in online chat rooms - | WBTV Charlotte

Protecting children in online chat rooms

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) – With Chatroulette, all you need is a webcam to connect with strangers around the world. That's what makes it intriguing, and sometimes obscene.

The website has exploded in popularity the past year. Users can click through other users until they land upon someone they find interesting.

Within seconds of scanning people, we found several men and women wanting to do more than "chat" online.  Out of 25 "clicks," we found three instances of full-frontal nudity.

"It's a wide-open site," said WBTV cyber-turf expert Theresa Payton. "There are no filters at all for sexually explicit content."

Payton says there's no reason for children to be using Chatroulette, or any similar webcam chatrooms.

Another popular chatroom is called, Tinychat, which looks kid-friendly. Payton says children and teens can quickly find themselves in a bad situation. Chat sessions could be recorded and go viral.

Charlotte mom, Marinn Bengel, agreed to test the sites with WBTV. Bengel has three children and house-rules regarding internet behavior.

"I wouldn't let just anyone visit my house, so why would I give them access to my children?" said Bengel.

She briefly checked out the sites and never viewed any pornography, but could easily see the potential for harm.

Several men were sitting in the dark. Some were shirtless. "He could be anywhere. There's no profile. He could be anywhere in the world," she said.

Chatroulette users are not required to register, it's completely anonymous.

It was created by an 18-year-old Russian named Andrey Ternovskiy. Ternovskiy says he never anticipated the problems with nudity.

"There are more users who are interested in  normal content, than there are users interested in lewd content," said Ternovskiy.

He said their research found ten-percent of users were generating obscene material. As a business decision, Ternovskiy said it makes sense to ban those users from the site if he wants to attract a more mainstream crowd.

It could be profitable, too. Ternovskiy said once a moderator has labeled someone as an obscene user, that person is redirected to a pornography website.

He said their filter system is not perfect and still has technical difficulties, but they are working to improve the site everyday.

In the meantime, Payton says parents should have a discussion with their children about not using the sites. They can also block the sites with special software.

She also recommends parents keep computers in a family room, not in a child's bedroom where the usage cannot be monitored.

Payton says instead of chatrooms, kids can get online with these social networking sites that are monitored and safe for young  users:

Yoursphere.com – designed for kids 17 and under

Togetherville.com – parents can create an account using their facebook page, the site is targeted to kids 10 and under

Gianthello.com – a similar to facebook, for kids.

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