SW Missouri school blocks Omegle website

WILLARD, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri school district has blocked the social networking site Omegle, after a parent complained because it allows users — like her 17-year-old daughter — to talk anonymously by text or video to strangers from around the world.

Kandra Armstrong, mother of a Willard High School junior, complained to Stephanie Kiesewetter, assistant principal at Willard High School, who agreed to have the site blocked, the Springfield News-Leader reported Friday.

Omegle, which proclaims “talk to strangers,” randomly matches users around the world. The talk is anonymous and it doesn’t require screen names.

“Does that sound sane to you?” Armstrong asked. “You can be on there for less than two seconds and have 90 to 100 people wanting to talk to you.”

The Willard district blocks social networking sites such as Facebook and prohibits students from giving out personal information over the Internet without the district’s permission. Omegle was getting past the district’s filter, Kiesewetter said.

The site also is blocked on computers at Springfield Public Schools.

Lief K-Brooks, who created the site when he was a teenager living in Vermont, said he started it to connect people with different interests. It gets more than 7 million unique users a month.

“Users can press the disconnect button to immediately get away from anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable, and since Omegle is anonymous, the user they were talking to cannot find them again,” said K-Brooks, 20, who now lives in Portland, Ore. “So while anonymity does occasionally cause bad behavior, it also makes bad behavior less harmful.”

K-Brooks said blocking the site may be reasonable if parents in a district reach a consensus, but he said it may be overprotective for older teenagers.

“I was only 17 when I started working on Omegle, and it’s become an extremely popular Web site used by tens of millions of people,” he said. “If a 17-year-old can do that, why can’t a 17-year-old be trusted with open Internet access?”

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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