People frequently use internet chat rooms and instant messaging to engage in enjoyable conversation with like-minded people, friends and family members. But there are dangers involved with usage. Other users may conceal their true identity, reveal too much information or find themselves in a legal tangle. Quality of life may weaken, and there are additional concerns for children.
Knowing Who’s Chatting
When spending time instant messaging or in internet chat rooms, be aware that not everyone may be presenting him or herself correctly. Be wary of anyone seeking information about a home address or bank account number. But also remember that the dashing online suitor might be exaggerating positive characteristics or that “Dr. Bob” may not be a doctor.
The British internet trend website internet Phenomenon notes the emergence of “sockpuppets,” people who purposely mislead others about true identity, opinions and beliefs. Most people don’t have time to waste talking with a “pretend” online friend.
Revealing Too Much
There’s something comfortingly anonymous about sharing intimate thoughts or concerns in the privacy of an online chat room. But remember that hardly anything that takes place online can be considered truly private or anonymous. Beware of sharing negative views of bosses, co-workers, family members or friends—there’s no guarantee that they’re not part of that same online community, under an unfamiliar name. Over-sharing can lead to identity theft, hurt feelings or a diminished reputation.
Be aware that some chat rooms and instant messaging sites have legal stipulations that protect users. Some sites may have rules that internal messages should not be forwarded or quoted outside the site. These messages become copyrighted, and misusing the content could lead to legal ramifications.
Additionally, people who violate the No Electronic Theft Act, which relates to using other people’s copyrighted material, can be subject to fines and prison time.
Quality of Life in the Real World
Excessive use of internet chat rooms or instant messaging can lead to internet addiction. Because online dialogues constantly shift, some users find themselves sucked into a cycle of logging online to avoid “missing” something. Signs of addiction can include feeling guilty about time spent online or neglecting loved ones to spend time online.
While chat rooms and instant messaging can facilitate new online friendships, keep in mind that maintaining a balanced quality of life in the real world is also important.
Additional Concerns for Children
Online predators use internet chat rooms and instant messaging to establish communication with children. While predators may initially make contact with children in chat rooms, they may eventually steer conversation toward more private communication via instant messaging, e-mail or even telephone. There is always a possibility that an online predator may seek in-person contact with children first encountered online. Carefully monitor child use of internet chat rooms and instant messaging looking for signs of misuse—for example, if a child frequently minimises the computer screen when adults walk by.
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