The forecast for the Web would be clearer if people censored themselves.
The first time I heard of Chatroulette, the words “naked” and “man” were in the same sentence.
When 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy created Chatroulette three months ago, he did so with the intention of bringing people together, he told the New York Times in an interview. The Web site provides the opportunity to video chat with people from around the world with the click of a button.
While Ternovskiy was simply trying to fulfill a cyber niche previously unavailable, a small group of exhibitionists have ignored Ternovskiy’s objective and made it their own. Chatroulette is quickly becoming known as a site “where people expose themselves,” as New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton put it.
“It only takes a few ants to ruin a picnic,” the saying goes, but why did the ants have to come in the first place? The free spirits on Chatroulette are exposing themselves to random Internet strangers who are simply looking for clean entertainment, which doesn’t include private peepshows.
“[Chatroulette] is the perfect place for the deviants of society,” Wendy Urban, a computer information and science professor, said. “People feel anonymous, so they can act out fantasies.”
The flashers of Chatroulette do act under a cloak of anonymity, but the actions of these individuals eclipse the original concept of Chatroulette.
I like to meet new people, expand my mind and learn about other cultures. The idea that I could do so with a simple Web cam is intriguing, but the possibility of seeing a stranger’s genitals makes me skeptical. If the people who use Chatroulette wanted to see nudity, they could very easily access specific Web sites designed to fill that need.
And no one can swoop in and save Ternovskiy’s good intentions from the flashers seen from around the world.
“There is no way to censor the Internet,” Urban said. “It is free and open to anyone. You can restrict certain things like Internet gambling, but nudity is not illegal.”
And though Ternovskiy is trying to solve the nudity issue by installing a “report” button, which would ban the user from the site, our Web-savvy generation can easily find ways to get around it.
I am hopeful Ternovskiy’s solution will work – Chatrolette is a positive concept that provides some great benefits – but people so often abuse good opportunities. If a user prefers to air his dirty laundry, there are more appropriate outlets. The private and sometimes very personal interests of others should remain in a domain where you expect to see such open forms of expression, not in one where you’re never quite sure what will pop up on the screen.
Jillian Weir-Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.