A study recently published online in the Telematics and Informatics journal brought to light the problems of webcam trolls and how they can victimize children on chat sites.
First, let’s talk about webcam trolls. Many people are likely familiar with the term troll that is often used for people who post disruptive, mean, or harmful communication on the websites or social media sites of others. It is not uncommon to see a comment in the news about some celebrity replying to a troll who posted something on their social media site that is perhaps fat shaming, sexist, racist, homophobic etc. While this is becoming a relatively common occurrence, webcam trolls are not as well known.
A webcam troll is someone who engages in trolling in online forums, like the site Chatroulette. They may show pre-recorded video loops instead of live time video. Webcam trolls also may phish for information on these sites.
How do webcam trolls go after children? The answer is through initiating contact, often under false pretenses, and requesting erotic video chatting. The troll is often using a fake identity and a video loop. Through the chat process, the child is convinced to expose themselves on the cam or engage in sex acts on the cam for the other person. The person on the other end of the chat will record the sessions and they can be used for blackmail at a later time. The children are often threatened with exposure to peers and parents. Adults who are webcam trolled are frequently extorted for money. Children are frequently blackmailed for more erotic content.
When this type of webcam trolling occurs, children do not usually go to their parents to tell them what has happened. The children are often scared and don’t want to face the shame of telling their parents what they have done online with a stranger.
We may think that these types of things only happen on chat sites that have a reputation for being sexual or nefarious. However, this study shares the case of an 11 year old child who was playing Minecraft online. Anyone who is aware in our world knows that Minecraft is a video game that is insanely popular with kids. Part of playing this game is the ability to chat with others. In this particular case, the online chat friendship included simulated sex acts. When the online friendship went bad, the other child posted these videos online for the public to see.
The moral of this particular case is to not assume that your child is not at risk because they are not on chat sites. If they are video gaming online, they are open to this practice.
While webcam trolling does not happen frequently, it does occur. The authors suggest that prevention measures be taken such as not sharing personal data online as well as technically safeguarding the computer. They also suggest that if a person is engaging in chat with someone, they ask them to write a particular message on a piece of paper and show it in the web cam. This practice will help distinguish video loops from real people. Our long term suggestion is that computers and devices with webcam ability should always be used in a public part of the house, not in a child’s bedroom
As always, discussion and awareness help prevention as well. Talk to your child about web cam trolling.
For more information on children and cybersex risk please see our page The New Age of Sex Education.
Kopecky, K. (2016) Misuse of web cameras to manipulate children within the so called webcam trolling. Telematics and Informatics, 33, 1-7