Netsafe regularly receives queries from parents and educators about young people seeing nudity and inappropriate content via chat websites such as Omegle and Chatroulette. We’ve put together our best advice to help you understand how these websites work and some of the main concerns.
What are random chat websites?
Random chat websites pair up users randomly through text based or webcam based conversations. The appeal is that users talk with someone that they wouldn’t usually meet, as opposed to finding people with mutual friends or through similar interests. On many sites, you can start chatting without signing up. A lot of these websites have been going for several years – some of the more popular ones, Omegle and Chatroulette were launched in 2009.
What are the risks with random chat websites?
These websites often allow nudity and inappropriate content from users. They are designed for adults. Due to the random match-ups for the websites, once a user leaves a chat, it would be very unlikely that they’d ever be matched up with the same person again. Random chat websites don’t tend to use usernames and you aren’t able to search up users.
What are the main random chat websites?
Chatroulette says that its for users 18+ in its rules, while Omegle offers a moderated (13+) and unmoderated (18+) chat. Chatroulette allows users to report people for offensive and abusive behaviour, which can result in temporary bans; Omegle does not have any form of reporting or blocking.
What are the online safety concerns?
Netsafe’s research has shown that parents often underestimate young people’s exposure to harmful and upsetting content online e.g. violence and sexual content. There may be several reasons why a young person searches for a random website or shows it to a friend e.g. curiousity or wanting to provoke a reaction.
Regardless of whether a young person has searched for one of these sites or has been shown it by one of their peers, they may experience emotional distress given the nature of this content. Young people may show this distress in different ways e.g. they may withdraw or show aggression.
We have advice on how you can help people here.
It is also possible young people maybe exposed to grooming. Grooming may occur across platforms where there is continuous contact and the ability to search for a user or username e.g. social media and messaging sites. There are things you can talk to your child about and signs to look out for. Young people could also be asked to share intimate content by the people they are chatting with. These videos could then be on-shared to other platforms.
If you are concerned that your young person is being groomed or has created intimate video content, you should:
- Capture as much evidence as possible (e.g. screenshots, usernames)
- Contact the Police. If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 111.
- Contact Netsafe. We can provide you with guidance and support seven days a week. You can fill out an online contact form, email email@example.com, text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282 or call us 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).
What should I do if a young person comes to me about a random website?
The first thing you should do is reassure them that they aren’t in trouble, and that they have done the right thing by seeking support from an adult if they are distressed by the site. You should also:
- Normalise their response e.g. “it’s normal to be scared/angry/upset/confused”.
- Don’t overreact by taking away the technology – this will make them less likely to talk to you if something else happens and it can make them feel like they are to blame.
Once a young person has stopped feeling upset, it can be helpful to provide context for what they have seen. You might start by discussing the content of what was viewed and how it may have been accessed. You can talk about some of the concerns that adults have with random chat sites, and why the content is appropriate for older audiences. and try to establish whether the young person shared or was asked to share content e.g. intimate images or video.
How can I block access to random chat sites?
If you are concerned about your young person accessing these chat sites at home, and you’ve already had a conversation, you may want to introduce parental controls – you can read more about parental controls here.
If you are concerned about your young person accessing these sites at school, as well as talking with your young person’s school, you can also contact Network for Learning (N4L) for advice. N4L provides filtering for most NZ schools.
If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 11.
If you can expert help or advice, you can contact us. Our service is free, non-judgmental and available seven days a week.
- Text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call toll free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
- Online report at netsafe.org.nz/report
Online Safety Parent Toolkit
You’re currently within the ‘Learn’ section of our Online Safety Parent Toolkit where we encourage you to find out what your child’s virtual world looks like.
This is the second step in our seven step framework designed to help parents and whānau with digital parenting in a rapidly changing world. We recommend reading through each step of the Toolkit as this will guide you on how to support your child to confidently access digital opportunities and reduce online harm.