Last week, I gave a talk at the middle school about what apps and sites are popular with kids. Last year I spent most of my time talking about Facebook, not this year. Kids are moving off Facebook to other sites. My talk focused on the big 5 sites but I also mentioned a few up and comers. One site, I am hearing a lot about is Omegle.
Omegle pairs up random strangers for a chat. Everyone is anonymous. On Omegle, you are identified as “YOU” and everyone else is “STRANGER”. Kids can chat with a stranger either via text or video. To kick off the conversation, they can ask a question or type in an interest. Based on this information, Omegle will pick a stranger for you. Kids can also allow Omegle to use their Facebook likes to find a compatible stranger. Once paired up, you and the stranger chat until someone chooses to disconnect. After chatting, kids can post or save their chat or just move on to a new stranger. Omegle is available as an app or on the desktop. Currently, the app only allows for conversations via text. On its website, kids can video chat or text.
I tried out Omegle. All of my chats began with “hi” or “hello” then some form of ASL – Age, Sex, Location. Depending on my response, the stranger either disconnected or asked for more information.
I tried adding a few interests and asking a question. I had the same conversation regardless of my question or my interests. I did not find anyone willing to have a non-sexual chat.
After many unsuccessful chats, I wonder if I was missing something. I could not understand what kids liked about this site. Searching online, I found kids creating their own Omegle games. On Tumblr, some of the popular bloggers will start a game where their followers have to try to find them on Omegle.
They also try to connect with people by having secret codes such as starting the conversation with “SWAG” if you’re a Justin Bieber fan. Some chat with strangers while pretending to be a character from their favorite show or a celebrity. YouTube is full of videos showing teens pranking other Omegle users.
Kids may think because this site is anonymous they can have fun without worrying about what they say or do. The problem is this site is not as private or as safe as they may think.
People misbehave on Omegle
Kids will have to wade through a lot of inappropriate content to play a prank or a game. It is not uncommon in video chat to see either a body part on display or a group of boys asking girls to flash them. Omegle does have monitored and unmonitored video chat. By its own admission, Omegle’s monitoring is not perfect and kids will still see inappropriate images.
You can be anyone on Omegle.
Kids may have a great chat then “Stranger” asks for their Kik username or other contact information to continue the conversation. The problem is the person they are chatting with can pretend to be anyone online. To stay safe, they should keep their conversations anonymous and on Omegle.
Omegle is not a private conversation.
Omegle allows users to save or post chats to their social networks. People can also post screenshots or record video chats. If kids would not want it shared on YouTube or Tumblr, they should not do it on Omegle.
In the end, I think Omegle says it best.
Understand that human behavior is fundamentally uncontrollable, that the people you encounter on Omegle may not behave appropriately, and that they are solely responsible for their own behavior. Use Omegle at your own peril.