Chat Wise, Street Wise – children and Internet chat services


The IRC sub-group was formed in June 1999 under the auspices of the Internet Crime Forum ( and includes representatives from industry, law enforcement, child welfare, government, civil liberties and regulatory bodies, with the Internet Watch Foundation in the chair.

The terms of reference of the group were:

  1. to identify and quantify the problems of chat services on the Internet
  2. to consider and evaluate potential means of addressing the problems

A full paper will be published in March 2001. The advance recommendations below reflect the general consensus reached in the course of extensive discussions, but not all recommendations are necessarily individually endorsed by every member of the group.

What is chat?

  1. IRC (Internet Relay Chat)
  2. Internet Relay Chat is a multi-user, multi-channel system run on computer networks. It gives users worldwide the facility to hold realtime text ‘conversations’ with each other. Each IRC network consists of multiple servers which connect to each other. There are several independent IRC networks such as Efnet, IRCnet, Undernet, Overnet and DALnet. Users on one server can talk to users on another server on the same IRC network.

    IRC is not owned or run by any single organisation. Anyone with sufficient knowledge can set up an IRC server for relatively modest financial outlay, and although some are run by Internet Service Providers the majority are not. Of a list of nearly 400 servers visible on IRC on 15 October 2000, only 10 appeared to be located in the UK, of which just half were run by UK ISPs.

    Every IRC user has his or her own nickname, and communicates with other users either on a public channel - often referred to as a ‘chat room’ – or privately. Channels on IRC are dynamic in the sense that anyone can create a new one - a channel is automatically created as soon as the first person joins it and it disappears as soon as the last person leaves it.

    The dynamic nature of chat means that it is impossible to give an accurate figure for the number of servers or channels available at any one time. One website estimates that there are currently 147999 users on 37750 channels on 27 networks, while another recent sample indicated that on the night of Sunday 8 October 2000 IRCNet had 28527 channels with 63575 users on 53 servers worldwide, and Efnet had 22203 channels with 51159 users on 34 servers worldwide.

  3. Web-based chat

Web chat can be run either on dedicated chat websites or on individual homepages running a chat facility. These services often have a particular target audience defined by age and/or topic. Although some chat facilities are offered by ISPs the majority are lower level hosted services set up and run by a wide range of organisations and individuals who are not part of the Internet service provider industry.


  1. Children should use chat services specifically targeted at their own age range which have adequate levels of care and protection as outlined in (c) below.
  2. A focussed education and awareness programme should be aimed at parents and other carers to advise them of the potential risks to children using chat services and appropriate steps they can take to protect them.
  3. Providers of chat services specifically aimed at children should provide a responsible standard of care to protect their users. The nature and extent of protective measures should be transparent to all users.
  4. All Internet Service Providers should provide clear advice to their subscribers about the potential hazards of chat and the simple safety messages (see below) to help avoid them.
  5. Law enforcement officers should have specialised training and increased resources to ensure a prompt and effective response to reports of incidents in chat rooms.
  6. A user-friendly reporting mechanism should be available to facilitate the prompt reporting and investigation of incidents in chat rooms.

Safety messages: ‘Chat Wise, Street Wise’

  1. Don’t give out personal details, photographs, or any other information that could be used to identify you, such as your family, where you live or the school you go to.
  2. Don’t take other people at face value – they may not be what they seem.
  3. Never arrange to meet someone you’ve only ever previously met on the Internet without first telling your parents, getting their permission and taking a responsible adult with you. The first meeting should always be in a public place.
  4. Always stay in the public areas of chat where there are other people around.
  5. Don’t open an attachment or downloaded file unless you know and trust the person who has sent it.
  6. Never respond directly to anything you find disturbing – save or print it, log off, and tell an adult.