There Is No Harm In An Online Chat With Strangers, Or Is There?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated March 1, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Did you know? If you have an interest or hobby, there's a chat for that.

While many might find chat rooms to be a harmless or “fun” pastime, an equal amount of people might have a negative experience or trauma related to negative chat room interactions. Understanding how to use chat rooms responsibly (and when and how to leave) can be essential to your experiences online and in your personal life. 

Scroll on to learn more about the range of experiences chat rooms might offer and how you can stay safe. 

Have you been faced with cyberbullies in an online chat room?

Technology has a history of the good, the bad, and the ugly

Many might agree that tech has advanced our abilities to communicate in new ways. In fact, some of the biggest companies in the world got their start with the e-space and virtual chat rooms! Mass media outlets were among the first to use chat rooms to get people talking to each other online, teaching them the possibilities that could come from the new frontier of the internet. 

AOL and Yahoo were known to set up chat rooms for numerous topics to draw audiences to their networks, ranging from hobby groups to simple meet-up “coffeeshops” online.

As cable and DSL technology became household staples, the audience pool widened in many regions, and many of the old-school chat rooms shut down. AOL was among the first to shut down its chat with stranger rooms. Yahoo followed their lead and shut their random stranger chat rooms down shortly after.

Stranger chat rooms did not go away completely; however—many found that they simply took on different forms. Instant messenger chats and online forums like Reddit, Twitter and Facebook groups are the new face of chat rooms for many. 

Who is vulnerable to the dangers of strangers?

Do you ever wonder why some people never seem to have no trouble with others in online groups and others seem to get drawn into every feud and squabble? Many of the same issues that lead people to bully others in person can cause the same bullies to target the vulnerable online.

“Bad actors” or dangerous people in the cyber world generally look for people who are new to online social networks and are not well-informed about healthy cyber communication, marking them as their next target. Virtually anyone can be made vulnerable to hacking, bullying or negative e-interactions. This is part of the reason why it can be so critical to learn and master internet safety in our constantly changing cyberspace. 

That might not be the only reason you want to practice boundaries and safe behaviors, however. For those with experience who want to create boundaries online, there is a certain form of empowerment that can come with making “ignore” and "remove" your go-to buttons, using them as strategies to guard yourself against virtual meanness. 

Here are a few tips for safe use of online chat rooms, and the internet in general. 

Be aware of your surroundings online

Most people who travel to an unfamiliar place might use an extra degree of caution when they are out and about in the community. It can be just as important to use the same degree of caution when browsing around an online space as you would in a real-world environment.

It is generally a good idea not to get too comfortable when you chat with a stranger, regardless of how long you have been chatting with friends in the group. Even a simple comment like mentioning the school that you or your children go to can lead a stalker to your home.

You might also ask yourself: Are there any recognizable landmarks in the background of your photos that would tell someone where you are? You might choose to blur the background or choose a virtual backdrop. 

Avoid losing your identity in an online chat

There is generally a lot of talk about identity theft—and for good reason. According to the Better Business Bureau, identity theft is still the fastest-growing crime. Instead of shrinking in numbers, identity theft rose by 45% in a single year (from 2019 to 2020) and social media users are statistically shown to be 30% more likely to be victims of this virtual crime than nonusers.  

Many agree that there is no realistic way to know if people are who they say they are. Furthermore, we can use this logic to avoid assumptions that people will not pretend to be you. 

Online predators and criminals can masterfully gain your trust so they can steal your money or your life. 

As a result, you might be wary of suspicious emails or interactions that may contain a virus that could gain control of your computer and steal your personal details and banking information.

You can never be too careful with any piece of information you post online. You might consider taking the extra step, making sure that your safety programs and firewalls are strong and up to date.

Does emotional or cyber abuse count as abuse?

If you have been online long enough, you may have seen some rude and unscrupulous netiquette—possibly ranging into territories of abuse. It is one thing for someone to misunderstand your point of view because they are unable to hear your vocal tone or inflection, however, It can be quite another thing for them to attack or bully you relentlessly because they think you have no recourse.

If it seems like an unhealthy conversation, it probably is. If you would not tolerate it in person, you can move forward confidently knowing that you don’t have to tolerate it online either.

Many might find that you never really know what you are going to get when you talk to strangers online. Nonetheless, this does not mean all chat rooms are bad. Many online chats can be extremely helpful. 

What should you look for?

We recommend finding groups that are helpful and responsible and posting the group's rules in a prominent place. Administrators in healthy groups might monitor the group for negative and rude comments. Rulebreakers can expect to be removed from the group and banned. These types of responsibly led groups can lead to more fulfilling and healthy virtual interactions. 

To determine if a group is healthy or not, you may consider spending time paying attention to the chat room’s culture—including who is participating and if the behavior is positive. 

Keeping children safe online: An overview 

Many parents might feel hesitant to let their child form an online presence, possibly believing that they can be a target for negative interactions. While this can be true, it can be possible to limit your child’s risks by taking tech-smart steps forward as a family. 

For example, you might start by being a good role model. You can keep the lines of communication open with your children, encouraging them to tell you if an online friend makes them feel uncomfortable.

In addition to talking with your kids about online safety, technology and analog methods can both work in your favor. You can use GPS systems to track where your kids are on and offline. You can also post rules for web browsing near the home computer. No matter what strategies you choose, you might consider re-visiting them often to determine if they are still serving your family’s specific needs.

Have you been faced with cyberbullies in an online chat room?

Surviving the aftermath of online victimization: How online therapy can support survivors 

Even when you practice safe online habits, you may still be subject to comments that are violent, sexual, extremist or racist. 

For example: Maybe you have encountered a chat participnt who makes a practice of blasting the group with strongly worded opinions and aggressive attacks with the intent of amping up the group. (This is known as "flaming.")

Encountering such people online can be traumatizing for people who visit chat rooms for support and friendship. However, it can be possible to care for yourself and leave. 

Despite taking action to defend yourself, you may feel residual nervousness and mistrust, which can prevent you from participating in online activities you enjoy.

Would you believe that help is available for you in the same area as the space that caused you distress and pain? It can come in the form of online therapy. 

Caring online therapists can give you the time that you need to express your emotions and work through them, possibly empowering you to return to online activities with greater confidence. 

Online therapists such as the ones at BetterHelp can be readily available for sessions at your convenience and comfort. This means that you won’t necessarily have to go to an office and meet a therapist you may not click with. Also, it can be helpful to note that these online therapists are generally highly trained, qualified and educated to aid a vast array of concerns and mental health conditions that can be exacerbated by “bad” virtual behaviors—such as depression or anxiety disorder(s). 

If you are facing struggles or difficulties in your life that may be aided by a mental health professional, a licensed online therapist at BetterHelp can help you get on the right track.

Is online therapy effective? 

Online therapy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when seeking therapeutic help or guidance. However, many experts have noted that online therapy can be a great first step in learning more about your condition and ways to possibly improve your quality of life. 

Text therapy, for example, has been noted by the New York Times as a modality that can open doors to more long-term therapy options for someone uncertain about traditional therapy. Additionally, an article published by the American Psychological Association noted that messaging therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy, and can help in normalizing mental health care at a time when such concerns might be dismissed by popular culture.


Seeking camaraderie and social support in chat rooms where you can establish secrecy in the comfort of your room can be a reasonable outlet that can be entertaining. However, one might want to practice care and be vigilant that these interactions are safe and appropriate. While these rooms can offer comfort and entertainment, you might also consider reaching out for support from a mental health therapist. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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