Omegle was more than just an online chat platform, it was an institution of the old web.
Now, more than 14 years after its launch, Omegle shut down because its owner could not cope anymore with the amount of crime happening on the platform.
Omegle was founded in 2009 by a then 18-year-old programmer Leif K-Brooks. Years later, the web and the world are much darker.
Just how dark? As one professor in criminology wrote on X/Twitter, just in 2022 alone Omegle reported 600,000 cases of child sexual abuse.
“I didn’t really know what to expect when I launched Omegle. Would anyone even care about some Web site that an 18 year old kid made in his bedroom in his parents’ house in Vermont, with no marketing budget? But it became popular almost instantly after launch, and grew organically from there, reaching millions of daily users. I believe this had something to do with meeting new people being a basic human need, and with Omegle being among the best ways to fulfill that need.
“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 nor psychologically. Frankly, I don’t want to have a heart attack in my 30s,” wrote its owner.
He also wrote that Omegle wasn’t just a dark platform rife with criminals but a platform that connected many people and created valuable memories.
Unfortunately, the owner blames a small subset of users for ruining the place, as well as the currently polarized landscape in which most social media platforms are targeted as a political talking point.
“In recent years, it seems like the whole world has become more ornery. Maybe that has something to do with the pandemic, or with political disagreements. Whatever the reason, people have become faster to attack, and slower to recognize each other’s shared humanity. One aspect of this has been a constant barrage of attacks on communication services, Omegle included, based on the behavior of a malicious subset of users,” said K-Brooks, adding that the real victim in Omegle shutting down is you as a user.
“Omegle is the direct target of these attacks, but their ultimate victim is you: all of you out there who have used, or would have used, Omegle to improve your lives, and the lives of others.
When they say Omegle shouldn’t exist, they are really saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to use it; that you shouldn’t be allowed to meet random new people online.
That idea is anathema to the ideals I cherish – specifically, to the bedrock principle of a free society that, when restrictions are imposed to prevent crime, the burden of those restrictions must not be targeted at innocent victims or potential victims of crime.”
If you have fond memories of Omegle, head over to its front page to read K-Brooks’ touching recounting of his experience in building and maintaining the site.
As a 90s kid who grew up with Omegle and more controversial sites like Rotten.com and 4Chan, I am sad to see yet another interesting place that’s now gone thanks to fearmongers hoping to gain political capital.