Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chat Roulette

In my day it was called Russian Roulette. You loaded a pistol with just one bullet, flipped the cylinder (see above), aimed at your head, and pulled the trigger. Don't shoot yourself dead and you win.

I had heard of it before, but am pretty sure I saw the execution of Russian Roulette in the movie The Deer Hunter. Chrisopher Walken played a young soldier in Viet nam (link to summary of the movie). You wonder, when you watch such a thing, who in their right mind . . . would play that game?

Thus the intent of Chat Roulette. Play it if you dare.

I read a blogger, a well-educated blogger, an author of social media books, who discussed the merits of meeting strangers on the Internet using a web cam. Chat Roulette is the perfect social experiment, really, albeit as a dissertation project would not pass through the Office of Protection of Reseach Subjects Institutional Review Board) (OPRS-IRB) at my school.

The social media blogger, however, maintains that the live chatroom desensitizes people, and that this is a good thing, builds social confidence. You open yourself up to meeting, at least viewing, whoever is in the room. Live (rhymes with jive). If you don't want to chat, you click and move onto the next new person. You learn, in this process, not to fear others just because they have different skin color or different clothing. You learn not to worry if people are even wearing clothing, is the theory.

And this is supposed to be a good thing, desensitizing to nudity and pornography in this social learning process. At first I considered the odds of seeing an exhibitionist, that perhaps they are very low. Then I thought, no. The multi-billion dollar, reaching trillion-dollar international child-pornography industry gets help from somewhere. You know where. Here, on the Internet.

Best, perhaps, might be to get to know the people that you already know. Increase your intimacy skills within the system you live. How many people really know the people in their neighborhood? I found it fascinating that when people visited me after my father passed away, that they knew very little about me. You know more about me than the people in my neighborhood. And obviously, there are two sides to this. I know very little about them.

A Swedish study found that 80% of Internet users are in it to find romance. There's an interesting statistic! Looking for love. And we know that it can be found, too. The dating sites, the's, the eHarmony's. You can even find someone who is just like you, who fits your psychological profile, which has to be good.

I like the question on one of the dating surveys, "How important is cleanliness to you?" This is an important question.

But ChatRoulette is different. It's about face-face, body-body social interaction with no pre-interview survey, by camera, any time of day, with a random individual, someone online at the same time, in the same room, or rectangle. You walk into a different random social interaction, not unlike sitting in the waiting room to see your medical doctor.

Wait a minute. It's very unlike meeting a random stranger at the doctor's. In the waiting room, the likelihood is that both of you are fully clothed.

Ah, but here, on ChatRoulette, you will meet very different people, people from different nations, different spheres of influence, different worlds. It's a student exchange program without the application fee! So what if they don't speak English, you can pigeon English your way through a conversation and this opens up a world of new experience, life outside your bubble. Talk about sensory arousal! New people, no fear of home invasion or guns. Nobody can hurt you. All you have to do is push NEXT and you're onto the next human being, up close and personal.

Maybe too close and personal.

At an Internet Safety workshop for high school kids in Atlanta, we discussed whether or not it is something they want to do, walk into a chatroom like ChatRoulette (it was described, not named). Remember, these are high school kids. They want to test limits, they have the confidence, they feel the omnipotence. They take risks. But they're not stupid and they get it, post-traumatic stress, acute stress disorder.

ChatRoulette is described like this. Two rectangles are on the screen. You are in one rectangle being filmed live by your webcam, like on g-vid or Skype. To start, another visitor pops up in the other rectangle. All you have to do, if it isn't the kid from India or Spain that you had hoped to meet, is click and you're onto the next person in the room. If you could go to a chatroom like this, would you?

Well, why not? It's totally anonymous. You don't even register with more than a fictional screen name. Sure, they can see you, indeed can capture your video, but you're dressed. Not that someone can't Photoshop a naked body to your head, maybe, and blackmail you. But let's not get paranoid. Is it paranoia to think this way? The state's attorneys offices don't think so.

But back to the fun. So the first person you see is a Japanese business man in his forties in a suit. You're not interested, click to the next. The second person is an elderly Moroccan athlete. Next. The third is a 20-something micro-biology geek. You talk a minute, move on. The fourth is a sexual predator completely naked holding something in his hand, leering mischievously at you.

Sure, you move on. You're not interested in watching this live, pornographic movie. But what do you do with that picture in your head? You think it just goes away?

I tell the story of a kid who walks her dog and a guy in a car stops to ask directions. She doesn't want to get any closer, but her dog is huge and is growling at the guy in the car. So she gets closer to give him directions and she sees where his hand is, what he's doing. And she sees the look in his eye, when he sees that she sees.

We call that a paraphilia, exhibitionism. He gets off on her fear, her surprise. So common. Harmless? She doesn't ever forget the look in his eyes, or what she saw.

So I'm thinking, why would anyone invite this kind of snapshot memory? Are we so desensitized? Should we be? That's the goal? Seems to me that if we desensitize to pornography we open the door to further sexual exploitation.

Every day I deal with someone's victimization. Every single day.

So we worry, me and the state's attorney's offices all over the United States, all over the world, about sexual predators, and what people will undoubtedly find, when it comes to ChatRoulette. The snapshot picture doesn't just go away.

Somebody close that thing down.



TechnoBabe said...

Such a waste of time and energy spent on things supposedly so titillating that it brings some sort of warped joy to someone. Many people are into this. I don't understand it.

Ivory said...

Yes, a waste of time and energy for such a despicable way to “have fun”. I’ve actually had people who have had a “close call” online tell me it’s not such a big deal. They believe it, but then, they haven’t been personally present when the person of the “close call” decides to abuse them, torture them, and make fun of them and there is no way to “click away” or otherwise turn off the pain - unless of course he or she is adept at dissociation. Even then, it never goes away. What a person sees, hears, feels and experiences is there for a lifetime. If those brave little people had even a few seconds of what’s in my memory, they would never take part in chat roulette. ~Click~

Cat said...

When I was 8 I was walking to school and sadly enough I trusted everyone, a man appraoched, looking worried, in a hurry and frazzeled clearly upset and said he lost his puppy...

Ya. I am embaressed to admit, I believed him, He asked me to help find it and followed me around the side of someones home and trapped me ( or I felt trapped ) between their gate leading to the backyard and the front yard. I was literally three blocks from school when he began to fondle himself... and I froze, like a statue.

If it was not for the lady who came out the side door of her home, I don't know what would have happened, but it felt like one of those dreams where you want to scream, but nothing comes out - or at least that is how I remember it.

Tragically with all the media available for society to view, sex, pornography and violence I fear we are as a whole responsible for changing our society, or childrens brains.

After all if we dont take action against these things, then are we not just as responsible?

therapydoc said...

A dangerous waste of time, as you are all saying.

And Cat, I do think so. Guilty by omission, usually. The secret is education, and it can't be preachy (my post probably is too preachy, alas).

Syd said...

I am amazed that pornography is the most watched thing on the internet. What does that say about our society? It is bothersome to me. I don't want to see someone else, chat with them. I would rather have an honest conversation with those that I know and perhaps get to know more about my neighbors, co-workers, Al-Anon members, etc. ChatRoulette sounds like another escape from just talking one on one with real people.

Anonymous said...

Had it happen to me, in real life, at age 15. The image in my mind has never gone away. I agree, TherapyDoc, shut that thing down.

Retriever said...

I don't understand why anyone but a predator would want to go on it. Yuk!

Anonymous said...

Granted, I don't know how to use my webcam and I don't chat, but what you describe here sounds like it could actually be a ton of fun and quite culturally enriching if it weren't for the sexual perverts. I can imagine clicking on and chatting with someone from a country where I have never been, or even someone right here in my own country who has a very different life than mine (only not so different that they shun clothing). It would be kind of interesting. Too bad there is not something like this but with a way to effectively screen people.

Anonymous said...
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Zan said...

There's another dangerous side to chat roulette as well. Chat rooms are meant to be 'safe'. You set up your account, as long as you calculate your birthday so that you are 18, no worries, you get an account.
But. I did this thing when I was 13. And sure enough I didn't do it at home, I did it at school!
Although now, as an adult, this thing totally disgusts me.
But what I am saying is that.. God only knows how many kids get this kind of abuse everyday by playing this dangerous game.

Chat Roulette said...

Chat Roulette has its pros and cons. The cons - there a lot of pervs on the site. The pros - there are some cool and unique people who want to have a good time. I have had really good conversations with people from Italy, Germany, France, and Russia. Also, it's not supposed to be an internet dating site. The kid who started it is 17 and wanted to have a good time.

Anna said...

You didn't go where I thought you were going!

Look, we should know by now that the Internet (nay, the entire digital world) isn't a black hole where our actions and comments just disappear. So even if we click past the perv, is he really gone? Could he track us down if necessary?

What if you were plotting "bad things" with another chatter? Can the Feds listen in on your conversation?

Lily said...

Wow. I didn't ever think there was a name to the situations/images that circulate through my head.

Snapshots. So simple. Yet so permanent. Unerasable.

Damage can happen in just a split second. It appalls me that it can now happen through a box on my desk, not just by human contact.

Hard to ever feel safe.

Isle Dance said...


A few years ago, I rec'd a free membership to a new (beta?) dating site.

I'm single. On an island. There are only so many men. Maybe I should try this out.

I should have first read the instructions.

Click. Ding-dong. (Literally, a door bell rang.)

I jumped sky high and screamed when I saw a live human male on my screen, looking for me...then angry because he couldn't figure out why I wasn't showing up.

Thank God I don't have a web cam.

But still, I thought he could see me, somehow. Or find me. Or something. Because he was right there, and it ((felt)) like he was in my private home.

Not a warm fuzzy.

Delete. Never went back.

Okay, so I'm a little PTSD about stuff, but still.

No thank you.

therapydoc said...

So cool, isn't it, that Chat Roulette visited? Thanks, CR. But if you know that pervs are all over the place, why NOT take it down?

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great tool for those who have social anxiety or shyness and want to learn how to meet people.

Stacie E. Hebert said...

Sounds freaky.... Thanks for raising my awareness. Also, good advice on getting to know the people are us.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree-I have first hand testimony to what your saying. I was told about chatroullette by a friend who seemed to have a good experience. So I tried it, I was bored, about half the people where clothed, the other half were man's genitals.
Then the most horrific image appeared. I actually saw a child being abused. A very young child and an adult man. It was the most horrific image I have ever seen. I have absolutely no way of knowing if when I hit the report user button and slammed my computer shut in complete horror what happened. I do not dare go back. I BELIEVE IT NEEDS TO BE SHUT DOWN or used to locate these predators and put them away, otherwise we are just condoning pedophilia and other abuse.
I completely intend to educate as many people as I can on what I saw. I also intend to talk to my own professors (I am a psychology student).