Omegle—a website that randomly paired internet strangers together for video chats—has shut down after 14 years, with its founder accusing some users of committing “unspeakably heinous crimes” on the site, days after it reportedly settled a civil claim for damages in the online sexual abuse of a pre-teen girl.
Omegle founder Leif K-Brooks said in a letter posted to the site that the website would shut down due to the “stress and expense” of “a constant barrage of attacks” by those who wished to see the website fail.
The site, which at one time had millions of users daily logging on to be anonymously matched with video chat partners, is shuttering after a series of legal cases and news reports that claimed Omegle was being used by pedophiles to find and abuse minors.
The website earlier this week settled a civil claim brought by a then-11-year-old girl who said she was matched with an adult man who went on to abuse her for years, according to the Washington Post, and another case saw a man sentenced to 16 years in federal prison for using the site to recording hundreds of explicit videos of girls between the ages of 7 and 17.
K-Brooks acknowledged in his letter that people were using the site to “commit unspeakably heinous crimes,” but said “every tool can be used for good or for evil” and warned users that the shuttering of Omegle is the first casualty in a battle aiming to end “active participation and genuine human connection” online.
The founder also argued “there was a great deal of moderation behind the scenes” on the site, and said Omegle worked with law enforcement to “help put evildoers in prison where they belong.”
“I’ve done my best to weather the attacks, with the interests of Omegle’s users – and the broader principle – in mind. If something as simple as meeting random new people is forbidden, what’s next?” K-Brooks wrote.
73 million. That’s how many monthly users Omegle had as of February, the BBC reported.
Omegle was founded in 2009 by K-Brooks, a Forbes 30 Under 30 alumnus who said he used the internet to escape his own traumas from childhood rape. He said he was “under no illusion that only good people used the internet,” but that he felt safe using a form of communication that could not physically threaten him. Controversy surrounding the website started almost immediately from those who said it was easy to skirt bans around nudity or sexual content, and that cyber-crime involving minors was surging on the site because of its anonymous nature. One 2021 lawsuit accuses Omegle of engaging in sex trafficking by financially benefiting from sexual exploitation, Bloomberg reported. A Canadian teacher pleaded guilty to several criminal charges last year after broadcasting child exploitation material on Omegle and, in Australia, a man was arrested and charged with using the site to search for child sex. Australia’s eSafety Commissioner issued a legal notice to Omegle last year ordering the site to answer questions about how it planned to find and report child sex abuse material. The Anti-Defamation League in 2020 started investigating the prevalence of antisemitism on the site and use by conspiracy theorists and white supremacists who allegedly used Omgele to spread “virulent racism.”
A BBC report found that Omegle was mentioned in more than 50 legal cases against pedophiles in 2021 and 2022, including more than 20 in the United States.