Internet Safety Group head Liz Butterfield sees little negative impact from a decision by ISP XtraMSN to close down unmoderated chatrooms on its network, especially if other chatroom operators, like Yahoo, do not follow suit.
“We don’t know what the impact will be until we see what the others do,” she says.
“Where it could have a positive effect is if it encourages parents to turn to their children and say ‘tell us about chatrooms and what you talk about in them’.”
XtraMSN says it will be closing all user-created chatrooms on October 14, following a similar move by Microsoft in 28 countries.
Microsoft said the shutdown is an effort to protect children from sexual predators and to limit spam. "Spammers have been coming into the chatrooms, and that's not what chat is for," says Xtra spokeswoman Anna Kermode.
She had no comment on a suggestion that chat communities usually give short shrift to spammers anyway.
She confirms that Microsoft plans to reopen unmoderated chatrooms in due course in the US, but on a subscription basis rather than free of charge. Having chat "behind a credit card wall" will substantially prevent access by children and hence the risk to them, she says.
AOL, Yahoo and British internet service provider Freeserve, will continue to offer chat services.
“Chat is now a part of our social environment and can offer many wonderful opportunities for both new friendships and for keeping in touch with those who are already friends,” Butterfield says. "There are a number of chat environments such as MSN, IM and TxtChat. But chat also has very real risks, so we need to educate ourselves about the ways in which we can reduce those risks, especially for children."
Presumably, she says, the displaced MSN chatters will move either to moderated rooms organised by MSN and XtraMSN or to rooms run by the other providers.
Kermode says in New Zealand moderated chatrooms will be able to remain open, with their content monitored from a companion site, Nine MSN in Australia.
Kermode says 11 free monitored chatrooms will continue in New Zealand: blush, chatfans, nightclub, lounge, maleroom, grrlroom, triviacafe, espressobar, twentyplus, thirtyplus and fortyplus.