This is the second case this week where an internet chat relationship resulted in death. The first case involved a 13-yr-old altar girl in Connecticut this Monday. So what is "internet chat"? And why is it becoming the "dark" side of the internet?
Chat rooms are not in and of themselves bad places. They're fun to most young people, that's why they come by the thousands, millions, from around the world, talking all at once to people they don't even know.
Chat's been around for a while. Today there are three basic types. The IRC or Internet Relay Chat that requires special software but has the fewest rules; the Webpage chat where all you need is a browser; and the Instant Messenger Chat like AOL and Yahoo offer - usually there are people refeering THOSE chat rooms.
For the most part in chat rooms, there are next-to-no rules, and the chat is usually easy and frivolous. But, to a social predator, chat rooms are fertile ground. Many become very good at taking innocent chat room members deeper and deeper into conversation -- finding out personal information, eventually talking to them on the phone and even meeting them in person like what happened to Sheila Sims.
Some perfect strangers end up getting married, but obviously there's a dark side to the outcome to.
It's worth the while to get to know what you're doing in a chat session. We recommend checking out the web sites http://www.irchelp.org or http://www.newircusers.com for good background information about chat sites.
Briefly, though, here are some basic chat no-no's: Never give out your real name, address, or any other personal information in a chat session. It's best to make up a gender-neutral nickname when you chat. Some people like to change their name often. But above all, never accept an invitation to a Direct Channel chat.
Entering into a direct channel chat is like going into a private room with a perfect stranger, something you would not normally do in the real world. Experts say it leads to 95% of internet chat security problems.
Parents: it's best to put the family computer in an open room where you can see what your kids are doing on the computer...just like you should monitor what TV programs they're watching.