Official: Chatroulette a paradise for predators

A new Web site that allows users to connect randomly with one another via webcam has exploded in popularity, but many experts find the site to be disturbing and warn that it’s a paradise for predators, according to a press release from the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Chatroulette connects people of all ages to one another for private, anonymous chats. A ‘next’ button on the top of the screen allows users to cycle at will through the 20,000-plus viewers who are logged on at any given time.

Some experts say the site is cause for concern because many of the users perform sexually explicit acts, and there are very few filters to keep children from accessing it.

The Texas Attorney General issued a consumer alert in early March warning parents to keep their children off the site.

An undercover investigation by the Cyber Crimes Unit of the Texas Attorney General’s office revealed that nearly half of the randomly selected users “immediately exposed themselves and conducted sexually elicit acts on camera.”

According to a study that reviewed 2,883 chat sessions and was posted on TechCrunch.com, a Web site dedicated to profiling new internet products and companies, Chatroulette is 89 percent male, 47 percent American and 13 percent appear to not be wearing any clothes whatsoever, are displaying explicit nudity or appear to be committing a lewd act. One in eight spins reveals something “R” rated, according to the study.

According to Jamie Kelly, director of media relations for Cornell University, a Russian teenager created Chatroulette in December 2009.

According to TechCrunch.com, the Web site quadrupled to 4 million users in February.

Kelly said the quick explosion in Chatroulette’s popularity can be attributed to journalists constantly being on the lookout for new trends in media usage and the viral spread of information on other social networking sites.

“It really speaks to the power of Twitter and Facebook,” he said.

Aaron Kenny, chief technical officer of InternetSafety.com, said Chatroulette is dangerous because of its anonymous nature as a video chat forum.

“Even with social networking sites, you have some control, he said. “On this site, predators can come out in a completely anonymous way, and there’s no history of who they chatted with.” Kenny said traditional social media sites allow people to control the sphere of who they talk to.

“The anonymous nature of this site is kind of like sending your kid out in the street in New York City and saying, ‘Go chat with whoever you like,'” he said. “No parent would do that.”

Carole Lieberman, a media psychiatrist from the American Board of Psychiatry, said she thought many people use the site in perverted ways because they are anonymous and because they have sexual perversions.

“It seems that those people are on another planet where they are just lost in their own loneliness,” she said.

Lieberman said the people on the site perform the lewd sexual acts because of several psychological reasons.

“These people want attention,” she said. “They want a sex partner. They want love. They want a friend. They want someone to recognize they exist.”

Pamela Bolen, a leading expert in dealing with Internet addictions, said she thinks performing sexual acts on Chatroulette stems from a sexual addiction.

“It starts off at a very small – maybe even kind of benign level — then it grows,” she said. “It’s very addictive. The same part of the brain that is stimulated by cocaine is the same part that is stimulated by sex.”

Andrey Ternovskiy, the 17-year-old creator of Chatroulette, said in an interview with The New York Times that the site was not intended to be an outlet for sexual predators.

“I myself enjoyed talking to friends with Skype using a microphone and webcam,” Ternovskiy told The Times. “But we got tired of talking to each other eventually. So I decided to create a little site for me and my friends where we could connect randomly with other people.”

“I didn’t advertise my site or post it anywhere, but somehow, people started to talk to each other about the site. And the word started to spread,” he said in The Times interview. “That’s how the simultaneous user count grew from 10 to 50, then from 50 to 100 and so on.”

According to The New York Times interview, investors offering sums in the millions have approached Ternovskiy looking for a piece of the site.

Kenny said the creation of Chatroulette underscores the entrepreneurial nature of younger generations.

“There’s this kid, he’s 17, and he just wanted to do something, so he did it,” Kenny said.

Brownie Porterfield, a senior communication studies major, said he has accessed the site a couple of times with his friends.

“I was told by a friend to check the site out because it was funny,” he said. “At first I thought it was very awkward, then after seeing all the perverted stuff, it made me feel dirty.”

Porterfield said it disturbed him to see older men doing lewd or perverted things on some web cams and young children on other sessions.

“Since I’m close to my cousin who’s in 7th grade, I know I wouldn’t want her to be exposed to something like this,” he said. “She’s a good kid. It could corrupt her mind.”