In October 2005, Yahoo shut down the popular Yahoo Teen Chat. Why? The trendy social network made a gruesome discovery. They had unwittingly promoted sex between minors and adults through the Yahoo Teen Chat rooms. Yahoo purged those chat rooms within 24 hours of becoming aware of them, but was it enough to protect teens?
The End of Yahoo Teen Chat
Drastic changes shot into place restricting chat rooms to users 18 and older and closed Yahoo Teen Chat for good. The elimination of the teen chat options limited chat room usage to adults, but the company faced the dilemma of how to prevent children and underage teens from signing up as adults. By June 2006, Yahoo voluntarily removed or barred use of about 70,000 user-created chat rooms.
Little did chat enthusiasts realize that Yahoo Teen Chat's elimination was a precursor to the discontinuation of Yahoo's free online chat across the site.
Yahoo and Teens Today
Today, teens can be part of the Yahoo community through a Yahoo Family Account. A Yahoo Family Account allows parents to add children to their account. This gives teenagers permission to access email, message boards and instant messaging with parental supervision. Responsibility to protect the child or teen from harmful content rests with the parent-not Yahoo. Teens active on message boards are no longer segregated from adults, and are now protected under the administration of "family" supervision.
Yahoo Teen Chats opened unsuspecting teens to sexual predators. Teens continue to chat elsewhere since the shutdown of Yahoo Teen chat. Friendship online can be real, but danger lurks when meeting people you can't see. Safe chat room netiquette can work to protect teens still socially networking through sites like MySpace, LiveJournal and Facebook.
Online networking is intertwined with today's culture. Laws can be made, but new opportunities and technology will emerge. A dark side exists within our culture. Pretending it isn't there or won't happen to you doesn't make it go away or keep you safe. Teens and their families need to be vigilant to take steps to not only protect but to educate themselves. For years, children have grown up learning about stranger danger and how to act and react if approached or touched by a stranger. These same techniques need to be addressed in the cyber world where teens hang out today and where outsiders infiltrate the perceived safety of online social circles with complete anonymity.