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Nine per cent of Canadian kids in Grades 7-10 use chat rooms daily and 10 per cent visit them a few times a week. (Source: Kids’ Take On Media, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, 2003)
Habbo Hotel is an example of a chat environment where users represent themselves using avatars.
There are two types of chat services, Internet Relay Chat, (or IRC for short) and individual web page chat rooms. Most chat rooms are mainly for entertainment and have little or no educational value
There are different levels of supervision in chat rooms: some are open rooms with no one supervising and some use electronic monitors that scan conversations for specific words and then issue automated warnings if they come across inappropriate language. Other sites have leaders who guide the discussion, or monitors who preview what people write before anyone else gets to see it. If people misbehave, these monitors or leaders can give them a warning or kick them out.
Start a Virtual Club. Start your own virtual book or film club with your friends. After selecting a topic to discuss, plan an online meeting to share your thoughts and perspectives.
Trivia Room. Outsmart your peers in a trivia chat room. Trivia chat Web sites offer a variety of topics for you to choose from.
If you're participating in chat, use monitored chat rooms. Your best bet is a chat room from a reputable site with adult monitors. (But remember, just because a chat room is monitored, there's nothing to stop an adult from pretending to be a young person and joining in the conversation.)
Protect your personal identity in chat rooms. This is probably the most important thing for you to remember. Never reveal information about yourself, your friends or your family when in a chat room. Use gender-neutral nicknames, so that no one can tell what sex you are. And remember that nothing is private on the Internet. Many chat rooms archive or store chat conversations and make them available on the Web.
Watch out for leading questions. Predators are very good at digging for information from prospective victims. They ask lots of questions that appear to be innocent, but are really fishing for clues so they can find out where you live or go to school. If someone asks too many questions, be careful.
Don't leave the public area of a chat room. Some chat rooms offer users the option of going into private rooms or sharing a private message (PM) that no one else can see or monitor. Always keep your conversations in the public area of a chat room.
Remember, you're in control. You don't have to respond if a message makes you feel uncomfortable or frightened. Tell an adult right away and avoid that chat room in the future.
Never arrange to meet someone from a chat room without informing a parent or other adult first. Any meeting with an Internet friend should take place in a busy, public place - and with an adult present.
Getting the Goods on Stranger Danger
A great thing about the Internet is that you can talk to people without being judged by how you look, how you speak, or whether or not you're cool. Unfortunately, though, the same technology that lets you communicate without being judged by your appearance may also help online predators trick you. Those same chat rooms that attract kids and teens are also going to attract people who want to exploit them, because there's nothing that prevents those people from pretending to be a young person.
Many online predators are smart and patient. They take their time getting to know potential targets and will often groom three or four kids at the same time. They earn trust through the use of attention, affection, kindness and even gifts. They are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money and energy to this process. They listen to, and empathize with, your problems and will often be aware of your interests, hobbies and taste in music. (In other words, if an online friend seems too good to be true, or an instant soul mate, your antennae should be up!) Some predators try to lower young people's inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual comments into their conversations; others immediately start talking about sex.
The trick is in knowing when you can trust someone online. When the Media Awareness Network asked a group of adolescent girls how long it took for them to feel that they could trust an online friend, their answers ranged from "15 minutes" to "two weeks." The reality is that bad things do happen, and what's scarier, is that many young people try to deal with negative experiences like these on their own. Online stalking is more than upsetting - it's illegal for adults to try and lure young people, so you have a right to ask an adult for help if this happens.
Predators know that eventually they're going to have to admit who they are. What they're counting on is that by then, they will have built such a solid relationship with you, that you will "forgive" them. Others will use previous conversations or their knowledge about your family or friends as a way to blackmail you into a real-life meeting. In some cases, online predators are able to fool kids about their identities right up to a real-life meeting - which can easily put you in danger. That's why it pays to take an adult with you when meeting an online friend. If they have nothing to hide, they won't object.
A flip-side of this problem is when teens visit online chat rooms looking for sexual discussions (called "cybersex" or "cybering"). Some young people do this because they like to tease people they consider "creeps" or "perverts." Others see sexual chat as a way to experiment sexually from the safety of their own computers. It's true that you can't get pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted disease from online sex, but you can end up being harassed or even blackmailed by the person you are cybering with. Most teens think they can't be traced, but the truth is, if someone really wants to find out who you are online, there are many tricks - and even software - to help them discover your identity.
You Are Smarter - Be a Detective
Luckily, if people can find out about you, then you can find out about them. If you want to know more about an online acquaintance, and the chat room you're in saves conversation threads, take a look through the archives to see if that person is saying the same things to other people as he or she is saying to you.
If you have an e-mail address for that person, you can go to a Web site like Visual Ware and download software that traces IP addresses through e-mail addresses. (Even Hotmail addresses can be traced back to a city of origin.) If the person you're corresponding with says they're from sunny California, and the city of origin for their e-mal address turns out to be Sudbury, you should wonder what else they're not being honest about!
Because an IP address is like a telephone number for a computer, it can be important information for you to have. That way, if an online acquaintance turns out to be nasty, police can use their IP address to track them. (Letting an online acquaintance know that you have this information can also make you a less desirable target if they are up to no good.)
Think about it…
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