Cameras, controversies, and creepers, oh my!

by Amal Asghar

Play. He waves excitedly. You smile back awkwardly. Next.

Chatroulette, a relatively new social networking site, according to New York Times, created by 17-year-old Russian Andrey Ternovskiy, allows strangers all over the world to connect through webcam and chat. Even though the site was first created in November of last year, it seems only recently to have gained popularity.

Students were lured to “play” on the site by curiosity.

“A lot of my friends were talking about how cool it was and how funny it was,” Rani Mukherjee (11) said.

Although some students have heard entertaining stories from their friends about their experiences on the website, other students have only heard unpleasant recounts.

Maddy Rao (10) explained why she has not yet visited the site.

“[Chatroulette] sounds scary to me. I’ve heard so many horror stories about it,” she said.

Rani confirmed the stories, she said “[Chatroulette] was entertaining for a while, until there was [a provocative image] every five seconds.”

Concerns about student safety are prevalent in most all discussions. Webcam chats on campus occur occasionally, and the idea worries some members of the community.

“[My friends] were on it, and this guy came on … and he pulled off his pants,” Nidhi Gandhi (11) said. “That’s an issue. That’s really creepy.”

Users must by at least 16-years-old; however, there are no measures to implement this rule. The only other security measure the website allows is a “report inappropriate video” link.

“I’m a big fan of students developing healthy relationships with a wide variety of other people,” Daniel Hudkins, Director of Instructional Technology, said. “However, the notion of just any other person on the planet who has a camera turned on at the moment as a source of additional contact raises issues of concern.”

To maximize safety on the website, students like Joanna Ahn (11) have aimed their webcam away from their face. Although protection is a prevalent topic of discussion, students have also had good experiences on the website and have met new people.

“I met someone in Brazil, and [he was] my age and [he] had a lot of common interests with me,” Joanna said. “I’ve learned a lot of stuff about people in different areas…[like people have] told me a lot of different words they use [in different countries].”
While some students have met people in different countries, one met someone from the Bay Area.

“I was talking to this one guy and I found out he was an alum from ’07,” David Wu (11) said. “He asked me, ‘did you guys finish the science tech building yet?’ I [thought] that was so crazy.”

People have taken advantage of the opportunity to showcase their talents and to work on their improvisational skills. Running across aspiring artists who create lyrics and tunes on the spot or quickly sketch a portrait of their partner occurs frequently. Although there are risks of obscenity, there are also opportunities to meet talented or interesting people through video chat.

Hudkins said, “Building contacts around interests is always worthwhile. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how social networking morphs to being more socially driven or more interest driven.”