The chat room. A relic of the internet’s past. Once upon a time, chat rooms swarmed the mighty cyber plains like digital buffalo, robust and unmissable. There were chat rooms for every topic imaginable. They were like a furious, real-time group text among strangers who came together to talk about Babylon 5, the Gulf War, or sex. Lots of sex.
There aren’t so many chat rooms left anymore but their legacy and history survives. As do some of the weird secrets they left in their wake.
10. Celebrities Like Marlon Brando and Halle Berry Used to Frequent Chat Rooms
Much of the chatroom landscape was entirely anonymous, and you’d sign up for AOL or Yahoo and call yourself CyberDude69 and that was how the world would know you. Then you’d dive into the endless scroll of 115 other people’s random thoughts and say things in the hope someone could pick your thoughts out of a crowd. Or you’d troll.
Trolling was not the exclusive purview of social malcontents in basements as many people have claimed. Thanks to the veil of anonymity, even celebrities got in on this action only to publicly reveal their shenanigans later.
Marlon Brando was one of the most notable celebrity chat room trolls of the era. He admitted to hanging out in chat rooms towards the end of his life and cursing out strangers during political discussions if he didn’t like what they had to say. Some people who got on his good side became friends and were stunned to discover he actually was the real Marlon Brando and not just some crazed maniac.
Halle Berry also cruised chat rooms safe from prying eyes, just to engage in conversation without her fame clouding people’s opinions. Whenever she revealed who she was, no one believed her anyway.
9. Chat Room Software Can Identify Groomers and Adults Pretending to be Children
One thing you need to be aware of on the internet is that nothing you do is private and everything is being analyzed, sold, used and abused no matter how insignificant. Sometimes this is for mundane reasons like advertising metrics, sometimes it’s for nefarious reasons to steal your passwords or bank info and sometimes it’s actually for a good cause. For instance, chat rooms, especially ones used in video games, employ software that can identify people trying to groom children and even adults who were pretending to be kids.
While old school chat rooms are all but gone, most online games keep chat functions, as do other things kids and teens are likely to use that have any kind of social feature. Identifying people trying to groom children is often an easy enough task based on things being said but it can be harder to identify an adult pretending to be a child.
Systems have been developed that don’t just identify what is being said but how it’s being said. What parts of speech are being used and how, what emojis, links, punctuation and even numbers are included and how. The result is that adults pretending to be children can be detected with almost 100% accuracy.
8. Sprite Paid Kids to Shill the Soda in Chat Rooms
Advertising to children has been a sticky wicket in the ad world for a long time. Companies like McDonalds have scaled back their advertising to children over the years as it’s seen as unethical and they’ve faced legal challenges because of it more than once. But the problem is that McDonalds is just a drop in the ocean of advertisers who want to wrangle kids because they’re a powerful force for moving parental dollars around.
While TV ads were the standby for decades, the computer age gave companies a new avenue for targeting the young ‘uns and chat rooms were seen as prime ad real estate by some. Like Sprite, for instance.
Sprite tried their hand at a subversive non-advertising scheme where they paid athletes and hip hop artists to just drink Sprite or be seen holding cans of it. When teens caught on to the scheme, they shifted focus and started paying kids to go into chat rooms and pretend to be huge fans of Sprite to talk it up to other kids.
7. Serial Killer John Edward Robinson Met Victims in Chat Rooms
Nowadays we all know to be careful online because anyone we interact with could be the most dangerously insane maniac history has ever produced. All of us are cautioned to be on the lookout for these sorts of people all the time. But there was a time when that idea was new. That means there was also a time when someone was the first online maniac anyone had ever heard of and, for the most part, that dishonor goes to John Edward Robinson.
Robinson is often considered the first internet serial killer, and he used chat rooms to find his victims. Back in the year 2000, after authorities got a search warrant to check out the property of the “church going family man” they discovered the bodies of two women he’d stashed in 85-pound drums. They found three more women stored elsewhere.
Robinson met women online and lured them to his home under the guise of wanting to have a sexual relationship. Not only did he kill them, he often stole and continued to live off of government checks or alimony payments for years after the fact. He even kidnapped the baby of one woman and sold the child to his brother, pretending to be an adoption broker.
6. Munchausen by Internet Allowed People To Get Sympathy in Chat Rooms
You may have heard of a pair of conditions called Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen Syndrome-by-Proxy. They’re also called factitious disorder sometimes, but the gist of it involves faking illnesses or, in the case of by proxy, faking them in someone else like a child. It’s a mental disorder and the afflicted will go to great lengths to fake sickness, including using poison to mimic symptoms.
There’s a third Munchausen out there, one less commonly cited, and that is Munchausen by Internet. It sounds silly, and well, it is. This is a less involved version of the others and involves faking illness and injury online, in chat rooms. Trolling for sympathy might be another way to characterize it. Or money.
Famously, Belle Gibson pulled a Costanza and made up having brain cancer back in 2014, which rallied a whole online community around her. She parlayed that into 300,000 downloads of her app, a cookbook deal and more. Then a reveal that it was all fake.
As social media influence grows, so too do the signs of people with Munchausen, using things like Tik Tok to get sympathy for illnesses which may not even be real. And where did it start? Internet chat rooms that were formed as support groups for people with genuine illnesses, with fakers lapping up attention.
5. A Married Couple Cheated on Each Other With Each Other in a Chat Room
Remember the pina colada song? The one about a guy who wants to cheat on his wife and uses a terribly boring personal ad about getting caught in the rain and yoga? Only the twist is that the woman who answers the ad is his wife because she’s trying to cheat on him, too? Hijinks! Turns out that actually happens in real life sometimes and where else could such a thing happen but a chat room?
It’s hard to verify the truthfulness of this tale, but it was at least reported that a Bosnian couple tried to cheat on one another and hooked up in the same chat room where they began an illicit affair, at least in spirit. They each told their prospective partners they were married, so each knew they were having an affair with a married person. Each knew the other was unhappy. So one day they met, and as the song established, hijinks.
According to the original tale from 2007 there wasn’t a happy ending here with the couple realizing they belonged together. They just got divorced.
4. A German Cannibal Used Chat Rooms to Find a Voluntary Victim
Not everyone realizes that just because someone agrees to a thing, it’s not automatically okay. In 2001, German Armin Meiwes posted in some chat rooms he wanted to meet another man for the purpose of eating him. Meiwes wanted to try cannibalism. And a man named Bernd Brandes replied.
The details of exactly what happened are not something you want to hear unless you’ve had a drink or two but suffice it to say that the two men met and agreed on what would happen. And then it happened. Meiwes ended up killing, cooking and eating Brandes. He was later charged with manslaughter and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison.
Germany had no law on the books about cannibalism, so he couldn’t be charged with that. And murder was also off the table thanks to a video in which the victim is actively consenting to what happens. Manslaughter was the best they could do.
3. A Woman Used Chat Rooms to Potentially Arrange Her Own Murder
People use the internet to explore a lot of things that are creepier than what they’d admit to in mixed company and that includes fetishes. There are some people whose fetishes go beyond what can be considered acceptable, too. In 1996, two such people met in a chat room and that meeting ended in death. A death they both seemed to have agreed to.
Sharon Lopatka met Douglas Glass in a chat room where they shared extremely violent sexual fantasies. Glass talked about torturing and killing her. Lopatka went to meet him knowing that was what was in store. A few days after he picked her up at the train station she was dead, buried a short distance from his mobile home.
Glass was initially charged with first degree murder but that was later reduced to manslaughter despite several other horrible crimes that went along with the charge. He claimed he never intended to murder her but her family didn’t believe it.
2. Wall Street Bankers Were Accused of Using Chat Rooms to Rig Prices
Wall Street has never had a reputation for being upright and honest and that was only bolstered by accusations that, from 2007 to 2015, banks were sharing secret information in chat rooms that allowed them to rig treasury market auctions and pad their own wallets.
As far back as 2013 some of the bigger banks were already debating banning traders from chat rooms entirely because they realized they were being used for underhanded practices.
The lawsuit was dismissed in 2022 when excerpts from chats and other evidence were brought to the court and a judge ruled they didn’t meet the standard of proving any sort of collusion. So maybe the chat rooms weren’t used to rig anything, they just did a good job of making it look like that’s what was happening.
1. A Teen Made Up a Bizarre Chat Room Scheme To Plan His Own Murder
We’re all online right now and we have some idea of just how horrible things can get on the internet. There are dark things going on in the creepy, hidden corners of this place and they are not good at all. In 2003, one of the darkest and most baffling tales of internet horror unfolded in a chat room and then rolled over in the real world.
In June 2003 a 14-year-old boy was stabbed in the chest and the stomach. The stomach wound punctured his liver and kidney. His 16-year-old attacker was trying to kill him. The attempted murder was arranged in a chat room the night before when two people arranged for the hit: the would-be assassin and the 14-year-old himself, posing as someone else. He had arranged his own attempted murder.
The would-be killer was not a hitman for hire in any traditional sense. The victim had tricked him, pretending to be a female British spy in the chat rooms and promising the assassin he was working on behalf of the government. He’d get to meet the Prime Minister, be paid a vast sum of money and get to have sex with the spy herself.
In the end the boy survived and both faced legal repercussions, though very limited given the bizarre circumstances.