Talking to Strangers Online

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Talking to Strangers Online
In recent years, the Internet has proved itself to be a niche of ever-growing clientele, offering its users a multitude of venues of entertainment, education and other beneficial uses; but other venues of mischief it provides as well. It has been a matter of public discord and a concern of parents and educationalists that millions of teen patrons are now 'online.' A lot of them use the internet regularly, interacting with all sorts of content and technologies, and yet it is safe to say that the technologies that attract teens the most are those of online communication. These appear in many forms and have many uses, yet they can also pose multiple threats. Harassment, online bullying and anonymous immoral solicitations to millions of youth online now have new headquarters, going by the name of Social Networking Sites (SNSs).

One needs to have a general understanding of how people can use online communication technologies to target youth. A "chat room" is an online place where people gather to "chat" in real time. "Real time" is a technical term which means that, in computers, information is processed instantly; thus messages written in a chat room conversation are instantly viewed by all members. Most chat rooms are open to anyone who intends to participate, but discussions are not; they are often centered on certain subjects, such as relationships and depression. Although messages in a given chat room are viewed by all the participants within, chatters interested in having more private conversations can easily pair off for private talk. Many sites allow users to post and send others photographs and personal information and even use web-cameras. It is notable, however, that chat rooms, being a first among places online where solicitations and harassments occur, are losing popularity among teens. Wolak, Finkelhor and Mitchell noted in their article that many youth thought of chat rooms as unpleasant places attracting an ‘unsavory’ crowd (e351). This is true as, in nowadays’ world of technology and the plethora of communication modicums, chat rooms have become an obsolete means of communication whose use youth have relinquished to the abuse of other parties.

Another real-time communication tool is Instant Messaging (IM), which is a more popular variation of chat rooms that allows two or more people using the same IM service to communicate instantaneously. Its similarity to chat rooms is the fact that message senders’ typing appears simultaneously on the computer screens of both senders and receivers. IM messages are sent solely through screen names, which means that in order to send another user a message, one has to actually know them personally to obtain their private screen names. This minimalizes interaction with strangers compared to the openness of chat rooms. Some IM services have searchable member directories to help users identify or contact acquaintances, but receiving messages from unknown people through searches can be easily prevented by changing account privacy settings. "Although more teenagers use e-mail," claim Ybarra and Mitchell, "IMing is the Internet tool most often used to communicate with friends." It is true that teenagers, having left chat rooms behind, have turned to the comparatively safer sanction of Instant Messaging with its higher level of security and freedom of personalization.

"Blogs" (a contraction of web-logs) are online journals that people use as diaries or to comment on specific topics. They are types of websites, usually maintained by a blogger with regular entries of commentary, detailed descriptions of events or even media content. Some are personal in nature, acting as glorified online diaries with entries revolving around blogger's personal feelings and experiences, while some just provide commentary or news on a particular subject. Many blogs contain contact information and most allow readers or visitors to post responses and leave comments of...
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