MSN to close all chat rooms

by Suw on September 24, 2003

The BBC and The Guardian report on MSN’s decision to close all their UK chat rooms from 14 October because they are being used by porn spammers and paedophiles.

Chat rooms in the rest of Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and most of Asia are also for the chop. Rooms elsewhere will remain open but will be either moderated by an adult or require a credit card for registration prior to use.

It appears that the journalists, the Home Office, MSN and various children’s charities think this is a good idea, which does make me wonder which planet they’re living on.

No one would disagree that child safety on the internet must be of paramount importance, but will closing MSN’s chat room have any effect on how safe children will be on 15 October? I very much doubt it. There are a huge number of other chat room hosts and the pornographers and paedophiles will simply move to another location. The children they talk to will probably also move. Net benefit = nothing.

Alternatively, there’s the risk that children who have become attached to their chat friends will actually give out mobile numbers or street addresses in order to keep in touch, because they don’t want to part company from people they see as their peers. This is a far more dangerous outcome than simply leaving the chat rooms alone.

More intelligent would be to provide better education for children, both online in the chat rooms themselves and offline at schools, so that they understand that online interactions are not the same as offline life and that basic safety rules, such as never give out your phone number, must be adhered to at all times, no matter how well you think you know someone.

Parents also need to be educated as to the risks of online life and ways to minimise them – they have a responsibility for the well being of their children and if they do not adequately understand the nature and risks of online interactions then they are likely not to recognise a problem when it crops up.

By closing down their chat rooms, MSN are punishing a large number of people because of the activities of a minority instead of trying to deal with that minority effectively.

According to The Guardian, “There have been at least 26 court cases in Britain involving child abuse which have been directly linked to chatrooms.”

Call me a cynic, but that says to me that MSN are closing down the rooms not because they actually give a shit about child safety but because they’re afraid of being named in a court case and possibly sued. If they were really all that worried, they would tackle the problem properly not just storm off with their ball because they’re afraid someone else is going to kick it through a window.

suzanne fergus September 24, 2003 at 10:01 am

very well said!!!!!!!

Cal September 25, 2003 at 1:36 pm

I agree surely it's better to educate children about the dangers than try to shut down the problem. It won't go away. I also read somewhere the suspicion is Mircosoft don't make money out of these chatrooms and don't want to end up paying out money on security. A cynical attempt to look caring? Surely not!

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