Why has Omegle been shut down?

9 Nov 2023

Image: Omegle website

Leif K-Brooks, who created Omegle from his parents’ home when he was 18, said operating the chat service is ‘no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically’.

Omegle, the popular chat service that let people talk to strangers from around the world, has shut down after the founder raised concerns around some using the platform to perform “unspeakably heinous crimes”.

In a long and impassioned letter posted on the Omegle website, founder and CEO Leif K-Brooks told users about the financial and psychological burden of dealing with crime and inappropriate activity taking place through the platform.

“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,” said K-Brooks, who founded the chat service at the age of 18.

“Operating Omegle is no longer sustainable, financially nor psychologically. Frankly, I don’t want to have a heart attack in my 30s.”

Since 2009, the website has been a popular spot for people around to world to connect with random strangers and hold conversations, either through text or video. The idea, according to K-Brooks, was to introduce “a form of social spontaneity that I felt didn’t exist elsewhere”.

“If the Internet is a manifestation of the ‘global village’, Omegle was meant to be a way of strolling down a street in that village, striking up conversations with the people you ran into along the way,” he wrote on the website.

“If you didn’t want to talk to a particular person, for whatever reason, you could simply end the chat and – if desired – move onto another chat with someone else. It was the idea of ‘meeting new people’ distilled down to almost its platonic ideal.”

K-Brooks also mentioned in the highly personal note that his idea to create Omegle goes back his experiences as a survivor of childhood rape. The Internet, he argued, gave him a sense of refuge from the fear that by interacting with someone in the real world he was “risking” his body.

“I was under no illusion that only good people used the Internet; but I knew that, if I said ‘no’ to someone online, they couldn’t physically reach through the screen and hold a weapon to my head, or worse,” he explained.

“I saw the miles of copper wires and fibre-optic cables between me and other people as a kind of shield – one that empowered me to be less isolated than my trauma and fear would have otherwise allowed.”

However, this was not to be the case. Despite robust content moderation efforts combing both human moderators and AI, Omegle soon became infamous for criminal activity such as human trafficking and child sexual predators.

“Omegle punched above its weight in content moderation, and I’m proud of what we accomplished,” K-Brooks wrote, adding that the service worked with law enforcement agencies to alert authorities of criminals using the platform to put them behind bars.

“All that said, the fight against crime isn’t one that can ever truly be won. It’s a never-ending battle that must be fought and re-fought every day; and even if you do the very best job it is possible for you to do, you may make a sizable dent, but you won’t ‘win’ in any absolute sense of that word.”

While Omegle has been shut down for good, K-Brooks expressed his concern that “virtually every online communication service” has been subject to the same kinds of attack as Omegle.

“Unless the tide turns soon, the Internet I fell in love with may cease to exist, and in its place, we will have something closer to a souped-up version of TV – focused largely on passive consumption, with much less opportunity for active participation and genuine human connection.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic