Secrets, Lies & Chat

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Yahoo Closes Chat Rooms

As a concerned adult who has been involved in online chat for almost six years, I was pleased to see the article regarding the closure of privately owned rooms on Yahoo. My concerns for children and teenagers online have grown over the past years as I have come into contact with people online that I, as a parent, would never have wanted my children to be around, even just on the Internet.

The anonymity of the medium is the biggest cause for concern. This is a whole new world, growing everyday, whereby people can meet and chat without ever having eye contact, or the advantage of reading body language. It also opens a huge window of opportunity for those that get a 'high' out of manipulating the minds and emotions of the naive and vulnerable of our society. And the naive and vulnerable probably make up a large proportion of those online, because of the anonymity factor, because of the lack of eye contact, and the lack of body language. These people find it hard to interact in their real lives, and yet online, they come out of themselves because no one is there to make fun of them or deride them. All they need do is hit the X up in the corner and they can move on from perhaps someone who is verbally abusing them in a room, to a safer room.

The problem I have with chat rooms is that in spite of a room being labelled 'teenage' or a Peers age room, anyone can go into those rooms and do whatever they like in private. I advocate everyone naming the nick that comes into a room and starts to click on other nicks for private conversations. And yet, if you do that where I used to chat, in BigPond chat rooms in Australia, you are warned and often kicked out of the room, or you are told to take your problems private. I am strongly in favour of networking to weed out the sleazes from chat, and yet again, this is frowned on. It doesn't take much nouce to work out that someone who comes into a room comes in with a motive other than pleasant chat with those already in the room. These people should be outlawed.

BigPond, quite recently, changed their rules regarding rooms. They opened the chat scene up so that anyone can now own a room, whereas for the first five years or so I chatted in there, you had to apply to open a room and it had to be run on Telstra rules. Chat is dying in BigPond since they changed the rules; people have moved out of the main rooms into small isolated rooms and the whole concept of chat has changed. This is a shame as chat can be wonderful for many people who don't look below the surface and see what is beneath that isn't so good. It can be, and is, a lifeline for many and the demise of the quality of chat is sad.

Whilst Yahoo is doing the right thing in only having rooms open that they monitor, I must say here that I have only ever visited Yahoo a couple of times and the language and abuse I saw in the rooms I visited, scared me out very quickly. I can understand from what I saw, why there is now a problem regarding chat rooms for children/teenagers. I don't see how closing those rooms down will achieve much unless Yahoo are going to instigate hosts into each and every room on Yahoo and run the server with strict rules and guidelines. A room without hosts is a room that can be taken over by unsavoury people and who will police it?

Whilst I am not an advocate of heavy handed, control freak hosts, I believe if the owners of chat servers paid people to host rooms on the proviso they follow the guidelines set down by the server, then things would improve. No one wants to go online and enter a chat room run by a control freak host, but there is a feeling of safety if there is a host in a room and I believe all owners of chat servers should be forced to ensure that every chat room in their server is monitored 24x7, or is only allowed to be open during the hours there is a host to monitor the room.

I now chat on a new server in Australia and this server has no rules really, just guidelines for safe and decent chat. There are no swear filters like there are in BigPond. Anyone can open a room and own it, and my friend and I now have four rooms. I have my own room secretslieschat where I advertise my website and my book, two things I couldn't do on BigPond, and we have the Peers50, Peers60 and Peers60+. We took those rooms over from the owners of the server in an effort to get back some decent chat rooms where people will like to chat. It's early days yet with few visitors, but we have opped ourselves in the rooms and plan to monitor them to try our best to ensure that there is fairness and decency in the rooms.

I applaud the efforts of Yahoo. It is good to read that people who can make a difference are now working to do just that. We have to protect the young because those of us, who have been around the Internet for a while, know that there are things we all need to be protected from, but especially the kids. If we don't teach them the right way to act online then this place will end up destroying itself. That would be a great loss, as we all need someone to talk to, even if our talk is the typed word, not the spoken word.

In my own small way I am trying to make a difference too, and will continue to do so. Long live chat.


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