Instant messaging and chat

The internet makes staying in touch with friends and family easier. You might talk to your friends online after school or work, or to friends and family that live far away.

Instant messaging (IM), ‘direct messaging’ and ‘chat’ are messages sent (and received) in real time over the internet. You can also video chat if you have a computer or device with a webcam/camera.

It means that you can instantly communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world.

These programs or apps let you see who is online and when. Conversations usually take place when both people are online. The messages, and responses, are instant.

IM and chat apps, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Facebook messenger and SkypeIM apps such as Whatsapp and Kik are similar to sending an SMS or texting. They simply use your device’s data or internet connection to send the message.

Some examples of popular IM and chat apps include:

  • Whatsapp
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Skype
  • Kik
  • Viber
  • Facetime

Many people don’t realise that games with an internet connection might also have a direct message function. This means that if you don’t change the default privacy settings, anyone might be able to contact you.

A chatroom is an online ‘room’ where you can communicate with others. You can type messages that other chatroom users will be able to see straight away. Users are often anonymous or will have usernames which may or may not identify them.

The most important thing to remember about IM and chatting is that your messages can be forwarded or people might take screenshots of them.

Be careful with what you share online, no matter how much you trust the person you are messaging.

Chatting online is much cheaper than making a phone call. This is because these apps use data or an internet connection.

Challenges of IM and chatting

Icons showing a man is sending message online to a young girlTeachers, parents and carers of children and young people need to be aware that online grooming, cyberbullying and stalking can happen when using IM and chat apps.

If you’re chatting to someone using a video camera (web cam), be aware that this can also be recorded.

People might ask you to do things when you’re chatting that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

If this happens you have the right to end the conversation and report it to the app or site you’re using.

There are always risks around talking to people online when you aren’t sure who they really are. An open online environment such as a public chatroom means that anyone can take part in a conversation.

Top tips

  • Set up secure privacy settings on your accounts.
  • If you have a video camera (web cam) on your computer, cover it when you’re not using it.
  • Choose a username that doesn’t give away your personal information (for example your age or location).
  • Parents should be aware of the type of chat programs children and young people are using.
  • Parents should keep devices that connect to the internet in a central part of the house, that way parents can see what they’re children are doing online.
  • Learn how to block and report on the sites or apps you use if something goes wrong.