By Erica Thomas, managing editor
TRUSSVILLE — A website that has been around for approximately 10 years is growing in popularity among online users.
Omegle allows users to chat or video call random strangers. The user is able to end the chat at any time and the website claims all chats are anonymous. The platform has become more popular since the coronavirus pandemic began. People stuck at home have flocked to the website to connect with people on a more personal level. However, the website itself has a warning for users.
“To help you stay safe, chats are anonymous unless you tell someone who you are (not suggested!), and you can stop a chat at any time,” Omegle’s homepage states. “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.”
A BBC investigation revealed some young children have used the website to “touch themselves in front of strangers.”
Omegle’s homepage has a banner pushing users to “Talk to Strangers!” but one Lee County, Alabama mom has a viral video of her own, urging parents to step up. Courtney Carter took to Facebook live to warn anyone who has any type of influence on children. Carter said she was made aware of a family that has been negatively impacted by an elementary-aged boy who used the website. She said the boy was playing an online game when he clicked a link and was taken to Omegle.
“It tells him to click to go to this site, this is where everybody finds little groups to play with,” Carter said in the video. “Like, literally kids your age are going to go to this and you’re going to play and it’s going to be fun, right?”
The boy chatted with a person that Carter said threatened him if he didn’t send a photo of himself, so he did send a nude picture.
Carter said after learning the devastating news, she went to the website to see what it was all about and to see how it worked. Although the website states that anyone under 18 can only use it with a parent or guardian’s permission, there is no way to stop a child from accessing chats. Carter said she chose the option that she was under 18 and was sent instantly to distasteful and disturbing content.
“It was a cartoon image and it was sickening,” Carter added.
Child advocacy experts advise parents to block the website from browsers used by children and teens. They say children have shared personal information with strangers including their addresses and other ways to contact them such as Snapchat and other social media platforms. TikTok has blocked users from sharing links from Omegle.
Parents are urged to monitor their children’s online activity by having access to all accounts and passwords and frequently checking their online activity. You can also limit access to websites by setting up restrictions. Experts say to be honest with children by telling them you will monitor online activity and by making them aware of the dangers of online predators.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the following tips:
Parental Control Tools
Filtering and blocking: These tools limit access to certain sites, words, or images. Some products decide what’s filtered; others leave that to parents. Some filters apply to websites; others to email, chat, and instant messaging.
Blocking outgoing content: This software prevents kids from sharing personal information online, in chat rooms, or via email.
Limiting time: This software allows you to limit your kid’s time online and set the time of day they can access the internet.
Monitoring tools: This software alerts parents to online activity without blocking access. Some tools record the addresses of websites a child has visited; others provide a warning message when a kid visits certain sites. Monitoring tools can be used with or without a kid’s knowledge.
Software and Sites Designed for Kids
Browsers for kids: These browsers filter words or images deemed inappropriate for kids.
Kid-oriented search engines: These perform limited searches or screen search results for sites and material appropriate for kids.
You can watch Carter’s video below.