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What parents need to know about the Omegle app

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(Nation Now) – A chat site used by a teenage girl recently located before her disappearance raises eyebrows with her perceived lack of supervision.

Omegle was a site visited by a recently recovered 15-year-old girl before her disappearance and led the teen to meet and stay with an adult male in Chicago.

The girl, from Gassville, Arkansas, went missing on October 1 after she left a note in her room who said, “I need to do this, so don’t look for me.” I will come back and I will make you happy for me. I hope you know that I love you.

On November 24, the girl’s story was featured on NewsNation’s “Missing” series. Two days later, her mother, Nicole McKiernan, said she received a tip from a man who believed he had interacted with the 15-year-old girl in Chicago. McKiernan passed the tip on to the US marshals, who found the teenager “safe and unharmed” but remaining with a man in his twenties in his apartment.

The teenager “explained to me that he was the nicest guy she’s ever met,” McKiernan said.

An investigation revealed that the teenager met the man on the Omegle app, which allows strangers to video chat randomly. Experts say it fits a model of human trafficking – predators masquerading as likeable friends or romantic interests to lure young women away from their homes and prepare them.

“When she talks about him, you can just see that, like a glint or a light in his eyes, like he’s the best thing since sliced ​​bread,” McKiernan said.

McKiernan said her daughter was told she had to clean the apartment twice a week, diet and exercise daily. She was not allowed to leave the apartment in the absence of the man.

Experts say the free Omegle site, accessible to children as young as 13, has caused a myriad of problems for minors.

“Omegle could be one of the riskiest social media platforms available on the internet,” said Marc Berkman, CEO of the Social Media Safety Organization.

There is no need to register with the site, which debuted in 2009. Its popularity has spread through social media sites, including TikTok, and due to restrictions on in-person interactions, Omegle. became more popular during the pandemic.

“There are no rules,” McKiernan said. “There is no age limit. A 14-year-old can cope with a 40-year-old. It’s an absolutely disgusting website.

The site says users must be 18 or older to enter, but children as young as 13 can be on with parental permission.

“It’s really a warning to parents,” Berkman said. “We would like to see Omegle roll out age verification software.”

Berkman sees the absence of such a softward as an invitation to very serious problems.

“Unfortunately, Omegle’s culture has become such that a lot of people chatting are looking for sexually explicit content, looking to see the person they are chatting with engaging in sexually explicit acts,” he said. “And so it’s extremely dangerous for child users, period. And because of that, we’ve seen cases of sexual exploitation, kidnapping, trafficking all coming out of kids using Omegle.

Berkman says many problems follow a predictable pattern.

“Predators will usually get a young teenage girl on a site like Omegle and they’ll strike up conversations, build a relationship and eventually try to get that young girl, that young woman to show off or expose some body part,” he said. he declares. “Often they film it. Now sometimes they then go back to the target, let them know that they have that video recording, and they blackmail them for additional content over and over again.

“Our internet is disrupted,” McKiernan said. “It puts our children at risk. “

Berkman recommends that parents talk to their children about online safety, warn them not to talk or meet strangers, not to engage in activities that make them uncomfortable, and never to send messages. sensitive or private documents.

NewsNation has reached out to Omegle for comment on their policies, but has not heard back from the site. It’s important to note, however, that Omegle makes it clear that users aged 18 or older and looking for adult content should leave Omegle and visit an adult site.