Cell Phone Chat Rooms: Unmonitored youth

New cellphone chatroom attracts teen users
Lenina Rassool 20 June 2006

Teenagers are chatting up a storm unsupervised with an Internet chatroom program for cellphones that has rapidly swept through the country and gained 900 000 users in just over a year since its launch in May last year.News of the program has so far spread by word of mouth, although its growth is estimated at 6,500 new users registering per day, and the attraction, especially for teenagers, is the reduced cost of two cents a message.

Young users

Although chatrooms have been around for years on computers, they have gained a reputation as a gateway for paedophiles to gain access to unsuspecting children, resulting in the close monitoring of children’s Internet activities by parents.

However, with the onset of Internet on cellphones, the task has become much harder, especially as parents struggle to keep up with the advances in technology.

Statistics released by Clockspeed Mobile (now MXit), the company that developed the chat program, show that in January 2006, when their user base was 400 000, 45 percent of users fell into the 12-17 age group, with the 18-25 group making up the bulk of users at 50 percent.

Safety steps

Clockspeed Mobile themselves have taken steps to ensure safety in their chatrooms, and have posted a list of safety tips when users enter chatrooms, and on their website.

“However,” says Alex Meiring, the creative director and an original team member of MXit, “in the end it’s up to the parents to communicate with their children about using the technology responsibly.

“At the moment, we have profanity filters in the teen chatrooms that block bad language, and a report abuse function on our website where users can report bad behaviour,” he says.

“We’ve also started advertising with Childline and their number appears on the screen while users log in, but this is a work in progress, as we are busy developing a web interface where users can add Childline as a contact and receive counselling online.

“We also have a list of safety tips for parents whose kids use MXit on our website.”

Joan van Niekerk, national co-ordinator of Childline, adds: “One of the biggest problems with chatrooms is the fact that they (the users) don’t
know who they’re talking to.

“Although Clockspeed has been responsible in posting warning signs in the chat-rooms, there are still some children who will take chances by identifying themselves.

“The issue here is talking to children about the program,” says Van Niekerk, “and also more reaching out to parents about this technology. Developers of new technology need to take the responsibility of informing parents about the dangers.”

No harassment complaints have been made thus far.

“There are positives, though,” says Van Niekerk.

“Mxit has benefits, like having the news available, but parents need to take the initiative and monitor their children’s cellphone usage, which
is easier to do than with a computer, where they can erase the Internet history.”

IOL Technology – New cellphone chatroom attracts teen users

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! This makes me CRAZY! Joi found this article, sent it to me, and repeated “Izzy, this is in Korea, Izzy, this is in Asia.”

I can’t believe this is going unchecked. “Tips” and “hints” HA! Those get read AFTER the fact. They do NOTHING to stop actions before they happen. Monitors/screeners do that! And “filters”?! You think kids won’t figure out how to bypass those in an hour?

Sorry… it just infuriates me to see youth taken advantage of by companies with little/no social responsibility. Sure, the youth thinks its great– but they also think sticking paper clips in a light socket could be fun too (regular occurance in my high school growing up).

I can’t wait to see the stats on this– how many kids were abused? How many bullied? How many eventually give up their personal information? Those are going to be newsworthy.

I’m very much under the weather today (the eternal cold of misery). If anyone has any comments/viewpoints on this that I have completely missed, please- don’t hesitate from chiming in!

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