With the constant technological development and wireless networks covering an increasing percentage of the globe, users can now access online chat rooms anywhere and anytime as long as they have a connection. Although the opportunity to stay constantly connected to others and instantly share messages, pictures, and videos is appealing, chat rooms can present a considerable danger to children and teenagers. Specifically, children and adolescents can be exposed to inappropriate content and dangerous individuals, jeopardizing their safety, well-being, and life. Therefore, online chat rooms on various platforms require regulation in order to create a safer environment for underage users.
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In unregulated online chat rooms, there is a significant risk of children being contacted by older individuals with the purpose of exploitation or coercion to participate in unwanted acts. The anonymity of virtual chat rooms allows predators to prey on children and teenagers by pretending to be their peers and manipulating and grooming potential victims. The 2020 Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center article states that 89% of sexual advances directed at underage users occur in chatrooms and instant messaging applications (Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center, 2020). In the 2020 article The Dangers of Private Chat Rooms Online, Nicola Kirkpatrick notes that predators are experts at controlling others and easily create a trusting relationships to take advantage of their target (Kirkpatrick, 2020). Due to a lack of life experience, it is difficult for children to notice odd behaviors from their supposed online friends, exposing them to the potentiality of being abused. Therefore, there is an urgent need for online chatrooms to be better regulated.
Furthermore, children using Internet chatrooms are often exposed to unsafe and harmful content uploaded and shared by users. Such content can include inappropriate video and photo content, including images of sexual nature, and messages aimed at tempting children to engage in unlawful or dangerous to themselves. A research study published in 2021 under the title Kids Security on Social Networks by Face Blur Technique states that predators are highly skilled in convincing underage users that inappropriate content they share is acceptable (Mladenovic et al., 2021). Researchers note that in most online grooming cases, explicit content is introduced gradually after establishing a trusting relationship with the victim (Mladenovic et al., 2021). In addition, in open access, unregulated online chat rooms, unwanted content can be shared with all users, exposing children and teenagers to sexually explicit, violent, and otherwise inappropriate imagery. Thus, systems should be put in place to prevent such content from being uploaded and shared with vulnerable users.
Currently, many algorithms are aimed at protecting children and teenagers online. The 2020 research article Artificial intelligence, big data, and mHealth: The frontiers of the prevention of violence against children discuss such protection measures as predictive algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) utilization (Hunt et al., 2020). Nevertheless, there is a need for a more comprehensive solution. For example, predictive algorithms and AI can be employed to automatically check the accounts of individuals trying to contact underage users. In addition, signing up procedures for online chatrooms should require parental consent for underage users and submission of personally identifiable information for adults. Moreover, parents and teachers must educate children and teenagers on safe online practices, specifically how to recognize and report inappropriate behavior.
In summary, with the application of more rigorous signing-up procedures, preventative measures, and education on inappropriate online conduct, children and teenagers can feel safe online. These protective systems can result in fewer underage users being exposed to sexually explicit or violent content online. Furthermore, implementing procedures to check accounts of users trying to contact children online can translate into fewer children being groomed to participate in unwanted and unlawful online and offline activities. Overall, new protective measures are desperately needed to protect children and adolescents using online chatrooms.
Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center. (2020). Children and grooming / Online predators. Web.
Hunt, X., Tomlinson, M., Sikander, S., Skeen, S., Marlow, M., Du Toit, S., & Eisner, M. (2020). Artificial intelligence, big data, and mHealth: The frontiers of the prevention of violence against children. Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, 3, 1−16. Web.
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Kirkpatrick, N. (2020). The dangers of private chat rooms online. BetterHelp. Web.
Mladenovic, V., Djukanovic, S., Stefanovic, N., Kar, A., Jovanovic, M., & Makov, S. (2021). Kids security on social networks by face blur technique. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, 1029, 1−5. Web.