Chat rooms can be lifesavers for people who need help, althought they can also be amongst the most dangerous environments on Earth. Sounds paradoxical? Let me explain!
For many people, particularly those who are elderly, ill or disabled the world can be a very lonely place but it does not matter how isolated people can be from physical contact with others, it is still possible for many of them to communicate in real-time with potentially dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other people worldwide through a chat room and there are quite a number that have grown up which cater specifically for people with particular physical or mental problems, or other responsibilities which are made far easier to bear through communication with other people in a similar situation. Countless numbers of friendships have developed in this way, sometimes only online but very often in a real-world situation when people who have first communicated through a chat room have sought each other out.
There is however another side to chat rooms, and a much darker side too. Many of the people who frequent them have ulterior motives, and they can range from sexual predators right through to fraudsters or even worse and it is a sad fact that many of them prey upon the youngest or otherwise more vulnerable members of society. In a situation where it is not possible to see the person whom you are communicating with it is absolutely essential that you never give away any information that can personally identify you, or, if it got into the wrong hands, could cause you harm. It is, sadly, very good advice to avoid trusting anyone you have communicated with online because you simply cannot be sure that that particular person is genuine; as many a young girl has found out, just because the person she is exchanging messages with claims to be a 14 year old student does not mean that he is in fact a convicted 60-year-old paedophile, and the young woman with dreadful financial problems who is caring for her sick mother in a desolate village in Africa might well be a well heeled conman living in the Bahamas!
The better chat rooms have moderators who can keep an eye on what is going on and can step in if an obvious problem is developing, but most criminals and sexual perverts are not completely stupid and they are often able to appear perfectly normal and genuine when it suits them to.
Generally, chat rooms have had a bad press and many of the more distasteful abuses make headlines in the national press. This is a pity, since for many lonely or needy people they can provide that human contact that is so vital to all of us, and help people with specific problems to reach out to others in the same boat so that they can offer each other mutual help and support.