Omegle video chat app shuts down amid controversy over pedophile use

The online forum Omegle, which randomly paired users in video calls in the hope of forging unexpected friendships between strangers, has shut down after 14 years.

Omegle’s founder Leif K-Brooks, in a statement, blamed the closure on attacks by critics that used “the behavior of a malicious subset of users” to force it offline.

The site in recent years was identified in a string of legal cases as a platform used by pedophiles to target minors, and days earlier settled a civil claim for damages in one such suit.

Founded in 2009, Omegle grew into an unusual staple of internet culture and eventually claimed millions of daily users. During the pandemic it enjoyed a revival as TikTok users began sharing recordings of their encounters with strangers online — which ranged in tone from quirky to confrontational, while always maintaining an unfiltered sense of the unexpected.

“It was meant to build on the things I loved about the Internet, while introducing a form of social spontaneity that I felt didn’t exist elsewhere,” K-Brooks said in the statement. He described starting the site in his teenage bedroom without a marketing budget and no expectations about where it would lead.

The announcement of Omegle’s closure came days after the platform settled a civil claim, filed in an Oregon court. An unnamed plaintiff sued for damages, alleging that Omegle randomly paired the then-11-year-old with an adult man who sexually abused her online for three years. The suit was filed in 2021 and said the man had already pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in a criminal case.

In a separate case in August, a Virginia man was sentenced to 16 years in federal prison after admitting to chatting to “at least” 1,000 girls on Omegle and recording hundreds of explicit videos, pleading guilty to the production and receipt of child pornography. According to prosecutors, Anthony Benton, 21, chatted to girls who ranged in age from age 7 to 17 for three years beginning in 2020.

Earlier this year, a report by BBC News tallied more than 50 sexual abuse cases involving a minor worldwide since 2021 that mentioned the site, including 20 in the United States.

“There can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes,” K-Brooks said, also arguing that attempts to shut the site down because of it were disproportionate. “A physical-world analogy might be shutting down Central Park because crime occurs there,” he said.

“The stress and expense of this fight — coupled with the existing stress and expense of operating Omegle, and fighting its misuse — are simply too much,” K-Brooks said. “Operating Omegle is no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically.”

Omegle worked similarly to Chatroulette, which was also founded in 2009, by randomly pairing users from around the world in one-on-one video calls or text chats, with each caller able to terminate the chat at any point to be assigned a new pairing. The site marketed itself as a way to make friends online.

Responding to the site’s closure in a Reddit discussion, Omegle’s former users shared a mix of memories — including positive tales of meeting life partners, forging friendships and offering comfort to strangers in search of connection.

“Over the years, people have used Omegle to explore foreign cultures; to get advice about their lives from impartial third parties; and to help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation,” K-Brooks said. “I’ve even heard stories of soulmates meeting on Omegle, and getting married.”

Others online cited accounts of users butchering goats live on camera, paying witness to bizarre pranks and a general cesspool of virtual sexual harassment.

“Virtually every tool can be used for good or for evil, and that is especially true of communication tools,” K-Brooks said.

Angelica Manac

Angelica Manac is a newly Journalist with a strong sense of responsibility and loved her Job as a Journalist.

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