Are your kids connecting with strangers in social media ‘roulette?’

Popular video chat randomizer has dangers parents should know about.
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 1:50 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — School’s out for the summer, and kids have a lot more free time. For some, that may mean extra time online, and cyber security experts are warning parents to be on the lookout for potentially dangerous connections on social media sites.

Omegle says tens of thousands of people are on the site right now, and it promises users can talk to strangers. “It’s like roulette — you click the button, and you can get hooked up with anybody just randomly,” said Chris Hadnagy, the founder of the Innocent Lives Foundation. “Sometimes you get something really, really cool, and sometimes you can get something really horrific.”

Omegle has been around for years, but Hadnagy says it is making a resurgence. More kids are finding it and other sites like it, where users connect with people at random. Both cameras are on, and users don’t know what will appear on the screen. “Our kids need to be told how dangerous this can be,” Hadnagy said.

There are all kinds of scary examples. This month, a Canadian man was sentenced to 32 years in prison for making sexually explicit images and videos of children he targeted on Omegle and Tinychat. A Florida man pleaded guilty this year after the FBI infiltrated a Kik chat group that was dedicated to sharing child pornography. And last year, two men from Indiana were sentenced to federal prison for sexually exploiting children they met on Omegle, MeetMe, Snapchat and Kik.

Omegle is also facing a product liability case in federal court. The plaintiff accuses the company of profiting from ‘procuring children for sexual predators.’ In its response, Omegle admitted it does not require users to prove their age and also admitted that “it is aware that some users masturbate while using Omegle.”

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A spokesperson for Omegle told On Your Side it takes user safety extremely seriously. “Although users are solely responsible for their behavior while using the website, Omegle has voluntarily implemented content moderation services that use both AI tools and human moderators,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement. “Content flagged as illegal, inappropriate or in violation of Omegle’s policies can lead to a number of actions, including reports to appropriate law enforcement agencies. We also work with law enforcement and organizations working to stop online exploitation of children such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).”

“Of course there are guidelines. There are community guidelines say nothing inappropriate. Nothing pornographic,” Hadnagy said. “They have those things written in their guidelines to say, ‘Look. We told them not to do it,’ but no one is monitoring that, so it really is up to the parent, to the caregiver, to take control of that situation because we can not rely on these companies to actually do what’s right.”

Hadnagy says that it starts with age-appropriate conversations with kids, and it’s not just a one-time chat. Keep the conversation going. Parents and guardians can also use parental controls. Many of them are already built into phones, tablets and routers. “Most routers nowadays allow you to put sites in that you can block in your home router, so you could say, ‘I don’t want this site able to come up on my network,’” Hadnagy said. “Now, that doesn’t stop the child from accessing the site when they’re not home.”

That’s why conversations and open communication are so important. Incidents involving children should be reported to law enforcement.

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