Omegle is a website that allows users to start random chats with strangers. These chats can take place through text or video. While text messages may be monitored, the video is not. Given that Omegle allows users to connect with complete strangers, there’s a great risk that some may use this platform for illicit or illegal activity, including predatory grooming. Students who access this site may come across harmful material, including pornographic images — and schools may be liable, should that access occur on school computers. When creating technological safety plans, it’s important for schools to consider sites like Omegle and student safety.
How Does Omegle Work?
Omegle claims that it is restricted to users thirteen and up.The website states that users below eighteen must ask their parents before using the website. However, these rules are not enforced.
Omegle accounts can connect to Facebook accounts. This allows the website’s algorithm to record likes and interests. Omegle then uses these to pair people with like interests. There is also a place on the homepage where users can type their interests. Despite the site’s emphasis on connecting people based on interests, detectives in Hoquiam, Washington reported that the first thing asked in most chats was “ASL?” This stands for “age, sex, location” and is telling of what people are looking for when they open the chat box.
Why is Omegle Dangerous?
The main issue with this website is the people who use it. Because it is largely unmonitored, the website is riddled with adult content and even illegal content. It’s also been known to put underage children in dangerous situations. In one case, a fifteen-year-old girl ran away with a man in his twenties.
Predators can manipulate their interests on their Facebook profile or through Omegle so that they match with younger girls. They often then seek out a new method of communication for when the chat ends. The most commonly used app for this is Kik, a messaging app similar to Omegle. In 2021, a Utah man kidnapped a college student he met on Kik.
There have been recorded instances of kidnapping and sexual assault initiated on Omegle. A man in Minnesota was charged with six counts of kidnapping, sexual assault, and soliciting after exchanging messages with two thirteen-year-old girls via Omegle. The girls were found crying behind the couch in his parent’s basement.
Duty of Care and Online Activity
School districts are legally obligated to provide a standard of reasonable care for students. In other words, schools are morally and legally obligated to create and maintain a safe learning environment. Duty of care measures include on-campus supervision of students by school staff members as well as school safety measures. However, schools are obligated to extend duty of care to online spaces as well as physical locations. The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires all schools receiving E-Rate funding to install content filters. These filters have to prevent student access to content deemed “harmful to minors” — which may include sites like Omegle.
However, students easily bypass content filters on school computers. Electronic monitoring works hand-in-hand with content filters to keep students safe. With its customizable database of terms, LearnSafe can detect if students bypass content monitors to access sites like Omegle. Furthermore, LearnSafe monitors online communication for harmful material, predatory grooming, and sexual content. LearnSafe can even detect at-risk behavior, such as threats to harm one’s self or others. In this way, LearnSafe lessens school liability and keeps students safe.