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Study: Female Chatters At Greater Risk

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-05-10

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Fathers, print out this study and keep it to prove to your daughters that boys are evil and that a convent may be they're only hope. According to a University of Maryland study, chat room members with female user names receive 25 times more threatening or explicit private messages.

Users with male or androgynous handles were virtually ignored in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) rooms, according to the research, as chatters (predominantly male) swarmed what they thought were female users.

Assistant professor Michel Cukier and sophomore computer engineering student Robert Meyer conducted the study, setting up bots for one part of the experiment and posing as users with female, male, or ambiguous user names for another in various chat rooms.

On average, female usernames received 163 malicious private messages per day, compared to 4 for male usernames and 25 for non-gendered usernames. The researchers also determined that the messages were not from chat bots.

"The extra attention the female usernames received and the nature of the messages indicate that male, human users specifically targeted female users," Cukier said.

In fact, according to the report, male members were astute at weeding out the bots and bombarding human users instead. Human users with female usernames averaged 163 messages versus 100 for bots with female usernames. This may have to do with the awkward responses a bot can often offer.

Tamer examples of malicious messages included:

[10:30] [charm] feeling horny?

[10:43] [DanMan] Do u need money? Looking for someone who does not mind providing personal intimate services. $150/hr. Serious offer. 178 74 male 29 here. Interested pls intro?

"Parents should consider alerting their children to these risks, and advising young people to create gender-free or ambiguous usernames. Kids can still exercise plenty of creativity and self-expression without divulging their gender," said Cukier.

Melanie Killen, professor of human development at UM's College of Education and associate director of the Center for Children, Relationships and Culture advises parents to begin talking with their kids around age 10.

She says parents should not use "heavy-handed" warnings or ban their children from chatting online, as both strategies might be ignored or could make them even more likely to explore.

"Sit down and have conversations on a regular basis on what they're doing, what's involved," she says. "A lot of kids are very naive about this and feel it won't happen to them."

"Boys can be preyed upon too. And boys could be the ones doing it and thinking it's not harmful," she said.

The results of the study will be published in the proceedings of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers International (IEEE) Conference on Dependable Systems and Networks (DSN '06) in June.

More Information:
Assessing the Attack Threat Due to IRC Channels

Helpful Links:
Social and Moral Development Laboratory

Center for Children, Relationships and Culture


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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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