Study Shows Threatening Chat Messages More Common for Women

If you’re a woman, you are 25 times more likely to hear filthy come-on lines while online than if you are a man, according to a new study.

The study, a copy of which was provided to TechNewsWorld, 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.

The research by the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering demonstrates that chat room participants with female user names received 25 times more “threatening and, or sexually explicit” private messages than those with male or sexually “ambiguous” user names.

Heavy Harassment

Research conducted by Michel Cukier, assistant professor in the center for risk and reliability in the Clark School’s department of mechanical engineering, and sophomore computer engineering student Robert Meyer, shows that female user names, on average, received 163 malicious private messages — every day.

The study examined IRC chat rooms, which are said to be among the most popular chat services but which offer disparate levels of user security. Researchers logged into various chat rooms under female, male and ambiguous user names, counted the number of times they were contacted and tracked the contents of those oftentimes harassing messages.

“Some messages to female user names were innocuous, while others were sexually explicit or threatening,” said Meyer.

Typical harmless messages included “hello” and “care 2 intro?” But, some examples of malicious messages included the following on one typical morning recently:

    [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?)

Gender Free Protection

Surprisingly, simulated users — or “bots” — are not behind most of the malicious messages, researchers reported. “The extra attention the female user names received and the nature of the messages indicate that male, human users specifically targeted female users,” said Dr. Cukier.

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

According to Melanie Killen, associate director of the Center for Children, Relationships and Culture, based in College Park, Md., gender stereotypes and gender-targeted messages are very prevalent in Internet chat rooms.

“Some people use the protected anonymity of the Internet to send provocative messages, often basing their assumptions about the recipient of the messages on very little information,” said Dr. Killen. “Parents should be very concerned, but they are closing their eyes to it because they don’t know how to deal with it.”

She advises parents of young girls to start talking with their kids around age 10 about Internet predators, and urges parents not to ban their children from chatting on the Internet, as that might make them even more likely to deal with strangers, or strange people, on the ‘Net.

“Sit down and have conversations on a regular basis on what they’re doing, what’s involved,” said Dr. Killen. “A lot of kids are very naive about this and feel it won’t happen to them.”

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