On Thursday 9 November 2023, the BBC reported that Omegle is shutting down after 14 years of operations, due to multiple claims of abuse. Omegle had a pretty insane impact on internet culture over the years, but it’s always had a shady underbelly.
Omegle is a free video chat website that pairs users in one-on-one chats, enabling them to have conversations with strangers. The users usually anonymously chat under monikers such as “You” and “Stranger.” Omegle’s aim was to let people socialise and allow them to make new connections. However, this didn’t exactly end up being the only result.
Furthermore, the social media app TikTok banned sharing links to Omegle, in response to another BBC investigation from February 2021. It revealed that many prepubescent boys were explicitly touching themselves on camera in front of strangers on the site. These instances led to multiple schools, police forces and government agencies in the UK, US, Norway, France, Canada and Australia issuing warnings about the website.
Honestly, it’s undeniable the amount of impact Omegle has had on online culture and communication. The hashtag Omegle currently has over 11.4 billion views on TikTok. The site grew globally from about 34 million visits a month in January 2020 to 65 million in January 2021, according to news outlets. A lot of this growth came from the US, the UK, India and Mexico. In the UK alone, traffic increased by 61 per cent, with 3.7 million visits in December 2020. Most of these visits were from teenagers and people aged under 34.
Leif K-Brooks, the founder of Omegle, published a detailed statement on the now-abandoned website. Brooks said: “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. I’ve even heard stories of soulmates meeting on Omegle, and getting married. Those are only some of the highlights.”
“Unfortunately, there are also lowlights. Virtually every tool can be used for good or for evil, and that is especially true of communication tools, due to their innate flexibility. The telephone can be used to wish your grandmother “happy birthday,” but it can also be used to call in a bomb threat. There can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes,” the founder continued.
“As much as I wish circumstances were different, 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. Operating Omegle is no longer sustainable, financially or psychologically. Frankly, I don’t want to have a heart attack in my 30s,” Brooks concluded.