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‘Like destroying the universe because it contains evil’: Video chat site Omegle shut down

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Omegle, the social video site that paired you for chats with a random stranger ala Chatroulette-style, has been shut down following the site being branded a haven for sexual predators for years.

Leif K-Brooks, who founded Omegle in 2009, aged 18, announced that the site was closing in a lengthy post. Carrie Goldberg, lawyer for an 11 year-old girl who sued Omegle in 2021 for allowing her to  be matched on the site with an adult who later allegedly abused her, said the shutdown was the result of mediation between Omegle and the girl.

Omegle functioned in a similar way to Chatroulette, which was also launched in 2009 and pairs users with each other for video chats and is still operational. K-Brooks said that AI and human moderation was used to try and keep Omegle safe for users, but that these efforts did not prove to be enough to shake accusations that it attracted abusers.

In 2022, Omegle filed over 608,000 reports to the National Center For Missing & Exploited Children, that collates reports of potential child sexual abuse material online. K-Brooks said that “there can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes.”

Omegle has been cited in various US legal cases involving sexual abuse. K-Brooks said the site “worked with law enforcement agencies, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, to help put evildoers in prison where they belong. There are ‘people’ rotting behind bars right now thanks in part to evidence that Omegle proactively collected against them, and tipped the authorities off to.”

Nevertheless, there was a tone of bitterness in K-Brooks’ announcement that he had shut down the site he launched as a teenager.

“Analogies are a limited tool, but a physical-world analogy might be shutting down Central Park because crime occurs there – or perhaps more provocatively, destroying the universe because it contains evil,” he said. “A healthy, free society cannot endure when we are collectively afraid of each other to this extent.”

The shutdown comes at a time when websites and social media platforms are under increasing pressure to crack down on illegal and potentially harmful content, especially involving children. In the UK the Online Safety Bill recently passed, and looks set to make social media sites more accountable for the content they allow online, in addition to moving age verification measures into focus for the future.

In the US porn sites are under more pressure to enforce age verification rules to ensure that minors do not access them. Omegle’s community guidelines were last updated in June 2021.

K-Brooks said: “The battle for Omegle has been lost, but the war against the Internet rages on. Virtually every online communication service has been subject to the same kinds of attack as Omegle.”

He added: “I worry that, unless the tide turns soon, the Internet I fell in love with may cease to exist, and in its place, we will have something closer to a souped-up version of TV – focused largely on passive consumption, with much less opportunity for active participation and genuine human connection.”

‘Like destroying the universe because it contains evil’: Video chat site Omegle shut down
‘Like destroying the universe because it contains evil’: Video chat site Omegle shut down
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