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Chatroulette: Is This Humanity’s Tipping Point?

February 17, 2010

Nothing was on television last Sunday afternoon, meaning my Caruso Theory (Caruso Theory: CSI, in one of its many forms is always on television, no matter the time or day of the week) had finally been debunked. I flipped to MTV in time to catch a PSA (which I couldn’t find video for) featuring a naked girl – girly bits blurred – talking sadly about feeling pressured by her boyfriend to send naked pictures via cell phone.

The ad warns viewers of the “fine line between one person and the whole school.” Maybe I’m old – is 26 old? – but I wasn’t aware that this was a serious problem in high schools across America. A problem, sure. But a serious one? Kids seem to be keeping their clothes on for the camera. Or so I thought.

This PSA is Exhibit A in an ever-growing collection of evidence that proves people have no clue how to safely share over the Internet. Give a 16 year old boy a naked picture, what do you think he’s going to do with it? He isn’t filing it away in the “Things to never show anyone else” category.

I enter Chatroulette as Exhibit B. If you’re not familiar with this increasingly popular website, the New York Times Bits blog describes it well:

“The site, which gets about 20,000 users on a typical night, generates one-on-one Webcam connections between you and another randomly chosen user. The results are occasionally serendipitous, putting you face to face with an interesting person from another corner of the planet. More often though, the site is reminiscent of those old anything-goes AOL chat rooms, only with video. Let’s put it this way: Parents, keep your children far, far, away.”

In a sense, the site is like HotOrNot.com in that if you don’t like what you see when you’re randomly presented with one person, you can quickly switch to someone you’re more attracted to. It’s like online speed dating. Like speed dating on crack, really. I did the math, and the chance a person would make a valuable connection in this space is 1:1,439,0299. It also gives perverts just enough time to flash ya something you’ll never be able to mentally wash away, or for a lurking troll to toss some obscenity at you.

New York Magazine also has a great article about it, “The Human Shuffle: Is ChatRoulette the future of the Internet or its distant past?” The writer describes her personal experience using it. She points out that “one in ten is a naked, masturbating man,” and that the line of chatters requesting nudity never ends. One man held up a sign asking women to flash him in support of Haiti. Not sure how that’s doing Haitians any favors, but hey. When it comes to relief efforts, every little bit counts.

The NYT article features the email they received from 17-year-old creator Andrey Ternovskiy, a student in Moscow. He had this to say:

“I created this project for fun. Initially, I had no business goals with it.”

Most people who create things that go viral very rarely know that what they’re creating is going to go viral. Ask the Star Wars kid, or the father of the little boy who got high at the dentist. Sites like Chatroulette go viral in a similar fashion. They’re amusing, baffling, provocative, NSFW. Plus, the potential for business is obvious. Think jDate, Match.com, eHarmony 2.0. The days of hiding behind that three-year-old picture could be over.

As my friend Chris Pitre reminded me last night, literally everything in existence is used for both good and evil. Enterprising folks will find positive uses for Chatroulette, but let’s not kid ourselves. Be aware of sites like this and their potential dangers.  Once you or your child sees something vile, it can never be un-seen. Chat (roulette) responsibly.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2010 3:56 pm

    Love it, great post and that screenshot is priceless! 🙂

  2. kristina permalink
    May 17, 2010 9:07 am

    haha, i love this!

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