Instant Messaging & Chat Rooms
Instant Messaging (IM) and Chat Rooms utilize the Internet network to operate. This allows for instant communication between two computers anywhere in the world. With this principle, services like IM and Chat Rooms have flourished.
Web sites like www.Yahoo.com and www.Google.com offer membership “ID” accounts that allow a user to register and build a simple profile in exchange for the use of web services such as free e-mail, game playing, and online shopping. Part of these offerings also includes Instant Messaging and Chat Room services. Once logged into the web site a user can seamlessly maneuver through all application options. The web site also keeps track of user’s activities in order to provide a personalized experience on future visits. There are no verification efforts to make sure the person who creates an account is who they say they are. This allows for the anonymity many predators desire when they can pose as a much younger person in order to meet others.
With this multiple service concept in mind, a teenager who registers for a free Yahoo e-mail account will also have access to all the other features. The personal information listed during the initial registration becomes part of the teen’s online profile for that service therefore it is always important to think twice before entering any personal information within online profile registration pages. Keep it all generic.
A “buddy list” or “messenger list” is a small active window inside an IM program that lists screen name contacts a user wants to consider as a friend. It allows a quick communication by clicking the name and typing a message. Lists also indicate if that user is signed on to the service by placing some type of icon next to the name. It is very common for teenagers to have multiple names in their list. For safety reasons teens should set options in their account to only allow contacts from users on their buddy or messenger list (referred to as block or ignore people not on list). They should also never allow files to be accepted on their computer to reduce potential virus threats from a friend’s computer.
As mentioned in the previous section, many chat rooms are seamless with IM services with regard to certain web sites. Once a user has an account they can travel between both worlds with the click of a mouse. “Yahoo Chat” is one example. While using “Yahoo Instant Message” a user can simply drop down a menu and select “Yahoo Chat” and instantly be presented with a list of available topics and corresponding rooms. Other examples are “AIM Chat” and “Google Talk.” There are, however, many other chat room web sites that focus on chatting exclusively and are not tied with major search engine web sites.
A chat room window basically combines people who will only know each other based on their profile and registered screen name. If a person decides they want to “go private” with someone in the room, they can click that person’s name and ask to send an Instant Message. At that point, both users are simultaneously still in the room while engaging in a private IM session in a separate pop up window. Predators use this feature to target users they meet in chat rooms. Additionally, once a predator has a screen name written down he or she can send future Instant Messages to that person by simply opening the IM service, typing in the name and then typing a message. Many also send requests to be added to the potential victim’s buddy or contact list.
IM AND CHAT ROOM DO'S AND DON'TS
PARENT FYI - If you don't know how to manipulate the above settings ask your children or a friend for help. Anyone with some basic computer experience will likely be able to help you locate where to go. If you still can't find it, look for words like "preferences", "privacy", or "options" within the program windows.