CPD raises awareness about Chatroulette site

CPD hopes to maintain contact with community members about the site.

The Columbia Police Department posted an alert on its Web site to raise awareness about the potential dangers of using Chatroulette.

Launched in November 2009, Chatroulette pairs randomly selected strangers in webcam-based conversations. It has gained national attention for its potentially illegal activity, which includes some users posing nude or masturbating in front of their camera. In response to this, CPD posted the alert, advising parents to read a CNN article about the Web site.

"In general, it's the same as any concern that we would have for safety for our kids in the Internet," CPD spokeswoman Jessie Haden said. "The Internet makes potential victims available very easily to people, particularly sexual predators, who want to target victims."

Haden said though CPD has not heard of any complaints from parents or schools, it is important to inform people of the potential dangers of the Web site.

"We don't want to be fear mongers," Haden said. "We just want people to recognize that there is an inherent risk involved in the site and provide people with necessary information."

In addition to law enforcement and the media, some students have been aware of the potential dangers of Chatroulette.

"I was curious about what everyone was talking about, but I inherently knew that I would come across some genitalia," senior Jessica Berry said. "I think the site is meant to get people to step outside of their comfort zones, but I didn't like that I had no control in the process, and that I didn't know what to expect."

Many visitors to the site have similar experiences.

"People just sit there and masturbate," freshman Kinnari Patel said. "I even ran into some younger kids when I used the site, and they definitely shouldn't have been on there. I think younger kids need parental controls."

According to its Web site, Chatroulette requires users be at least 16 years old, and it prohibits any pornographic activity. Chatroulette also has a report button for users who spot activity potentially against the rules. If users are reported three times, they are blocked from the site for a temporary amount of time. Haden said these regulations do not adequately tackle the problems created by the Web site.

"A person could still lie to you about their identity, even if you see their face and hear their voice," Haden said. "I could see how someone might say you know exactly who you're talking to because there is a video, but they could be completely different from what they appear to be."

Some students believe further restrictions on the Web site's functions would detract from its intended goals.

"I don't think the site is harmful, but I see how the potential for problems is there," sophomore Mary Beth Fernandez said. "It seems hard to regulate, and if Chatroulette did something like create a registration process it would change the purpose of the site."

Haden said CPD plans to respond to concerns if they are received but will otherwise take no further action in regards to the site.

"All we want to do is make sure we have contact with parents, schools, churches or anyone else who may have questions," Haden said.

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