Many mobile instant messaging (MIM) services such as Mxit and MIG33 also offer anonymous chat rooms. While only a small percentage of MIM users use chat rooms this is a source of revenue for some MIM providers.
It is important to understand the differences between peer-to-peer instant messaging and anonymous chat rooms. The former is used between friends to communicate while chat rooms involve anonymous conversations with one or more strangers. As mobile instant messaging services are very popular with children, the chat rooms provided by these services are mainly filled with children. This then provides an ideal hunting ground for pedophiles who remain anonymous while using the chat service.
Several cases have been reported in the media where adult men successfully lured teenage girls from mobile chat rooms to a meeting in the real world with the aim of sexually exploiting them. This is termed "grooming" and is a criminal offense as defined in the amended Sexual Offences Act.
Advice to parents
- Join any anonymous chat room, or if you are technologically challenged, ask someone to show you a chat room on their mobile phone. At this point you will be in a better position to decide whether your child should use anonymous chat rooms or not.
- If you then do decide that your child may use anonymous chat rooms – which is highly unlikely once you see the type of conversations that go on in these chat rooms – you will need to consider the following safety tips for your child:
- Never divulge any personal information in a chat room, and
- Never leave chat rooms to engage in private conversations online.
If you decide that your child should not use anonymous chat rooms, recommend that they use a mobile instant messaging service that does not provide chat room services or at least provides a way to block chat room access.