I was going through some of my old files the other day and came across an old article I had written for Just Chat in response to MSN’s decision to close its chat rooms back in 2003. MSN claimed this move was in response to concerns about child safety in online chat, although many suspected (myself included) that this was a purely financial move. After all, there are many cases of online grooming taking place via messenger applications – closing chat rooms alone will not prevent such incidents from occurring.
Our official response is still relevant today, and I include it below:
The decision of Microsoft to close the majority of its chat operations is a controversial one. Many outspoken opponents of online chat rooms have welcomed the decision and say this is a positive thing for the Internet and children. We disagree.
Online chat does not come without danger, but neither do an uncountable number of alternative pastimes. Opponents say online chat is simply not safe, is not needed, and is nothing but a danger to children and a stalking ground for paedophiles. Closing chat rooms is quite simply not the answer, and has the potential to do more harm than good.
Closing chat sites will only send vulnerable users elsewhere. Young people will look to communicate with others via mobile phone text chat, or voicemail chat for example. These cannot be monitored as easily as online chat, therefore the potential risks are much higher.
Whilst Microsoft is a popular chat provider, there are many alternatives out there for people to use. Chat sites if used sensibly, can be remarkably safe. No physical contact is made between the people chatting unless a user makes a conscious decision to meet. What we need are for chat sites to provide clear safety advice and highlight the potential dangers of online chat.
Parents need to supervise children when they are online and take responsibility over what their children can and cannot do when using the Internet. We don’t allow young children to wander the streets unaccompanied – why should it be any different when it comes to using the Internet, especially when opponents preach over how dangerous it supposedly is.
We agree that chat sites aimed at children should be constantly monitored. Chat sites should make it very clear what audience they are aiming towards, and always provide clear chat safety advice.
Removing such a fundamental part of the Internet is uncalled for and unnecessary. Online chat is enjoyed by many each day, and can be a much needed source of company and communication. When you compare the number of people who enjoy online chat to the number of victims of physical abuse as a result, the number simply does not justify its destruction.
Saying all chat sites are dangerous and should be closed is absolutely ludicrous. Paedophiles may stalk childrens’ playgrounds and schools – does this mean we should close all playgrounds in response to such a risk? Should we ban the car due to the number of children killed as a direct result of cars being on the road?
Online chat is not to blame for paedophilia – it has been around far longer than the Internet. Closing online chat will simply shift the problem elsewhere. We need to look at things in perspective and not jump on the popular bandwagon that says online chat is dangerous and evil. It brings joy to a countless number of people every day and will continue to do so with or without Microsoft.
Just Chat is not aimed at children, therefore we do not fully moderate our chat forums. We do employ volunteer ChatGuides who help out chatters and enforce our rules as necessary. We also include prominent and clear safety messages strongly advising people not to reveal personal information or arrange to meet people offline.
Online chat does not have to be dangerous – people simply need to be better educated and more aware of the online world, and this case is still just as relevant today.