Chatroulette Explored: Images of an Internet Frontier Town

It’s hard to know how to introduce something like Chatroulette, the newest and perhaps the creepiest web phenomenon I’ve encountered within recent memory. At its core, Chatroulette is a bare-bones social media experiment. But unlike the more benign social media hubs in our lives — like Twitter, Facebook, even Myspace — Chatroulette rips open a Pandora’s Box of raw, completely anonymous weirdness.

If you haven’t checked out the site, listen up: Chat Roulette is NSFW. Like, really NSFW. Was it always thus? Sam Anderson at New York Magazine describes its humble beginnings:

300 users in December [2010] had grown to 10,000 by the beginning of February. Although big media outlets had yet to cover it, smallish blogs were full of huzzahs. The blog Asylum called ChatRoulette its favorite site since YouTube; another, The Frisky, called it “the Holy Grail of all Internet fun.” Everyone seemed to agree that it was intensely addictive—one of those gloriously simple ideas that manages to harness the crazy power of the Internet in a potentially revolutionary way.”

Safe to say; The Frisky might want to take that back now. Chat Roulette can be pretty terrifying, to be honest. But that’s not to say it isn’t worth visiting. Chatroulette offers a roiling, unstable social media experience that’s brilliant at its best and deeply disturbing at its worst. Anderson puts this strikingly huge range of potential well:

“It’s the Wild West: a stupid, profound, thrilling, disgusting, totally lawless boom. If ChatRoulette catches on, it might even swing our collective online pendulum back toward chaos.”

So you don’t have to suffer through the Chatroulette experience yourself, reading through these steps a few times should give you a pretty good idea of what goes down:

1. Pull up
2. Press “Play”
3. Be instantaneously met, via webcam, with the face (ideally) of a total stranger.
4. Any number of visceral emotional reactions follow Step 3. Possibilities include a) Horror b) Relief c) Amusement
5. If a) Press the “Next” button hastily; repeat Steps 2-4.
If b) The stranger in front of you is probably seemingly clothed or the screen is black (their webcam is disabled).
If c) Savor this fortuitous moment- it may never come again. Bask here, in the dim glow of your Macbook. Linger on in weird glory. That is until the inevitable moment arrives when you or the stranger feels 4a or their experience of 4b deteriorates into boredom.
6. Repeat from Step 2.

Chatroulette is fleetingly brilliant, by design. It’s also fleetingly emetic, alarming and unsettling. The latter experiences can overwhelm its occasional brilliance, but perhaps the site is onto something? The world of Chatroulette boasts absolutely no accountability at the moment. That means no usernames, no logins, no signing up. Not only that, but there’s no way whatsoever to shape your experience toward the predictable. You can’t specify an age-range, a set of interests, or anything else–your next stranger will be a stranger in the truest sense of the word. The Chatroulette experience is totally unfiltered, and at the moment, that’s part of the brilliance, intentional or not.

Chat Roulette

Many Chatroulette interactions have the eagerness of a pilot episode. Users scramble to connect to or amuse one another before the webcam box flashes back to black. A certain kind of random ingenious humor and frenetic energy emerges from this dynamic, while you and the stranger offer up whatever is at your disposal to the webcam, like a sacrifice at some kind of weirdo social media altar. The results can be hilarious, unsettling or engaging- and if you don’t like what you see just click “next.” You’ll never see it again, for better or worse.

Chatroulette the website, much like Chatroulette the experience, can’t last long. The legal implications of a providing a lens into a random online world peppered with potential crimes looms pretty large on the horizon. Not to mention the ethical implications. The seemingly anonymous eye of the webcam can’t be underestimated. There’s certainly no dearth of listless pre-teens and lustful post-teens searching for each other, flipping through Chatroulette users like they’re probably flipping channels in the eerily blue-lit background.

Beyond that kind of unfortunate star-crossed interaction, your average non-predatory user can instantly transform into a passive bystander or a victim with a click of the mouse. It’s a wonder that these kind of stories haven’t bubbled up to the surface yet.

If Chatroulette does soon meet its inevitable demise, I’d bet that its random, exhilarating spirit will live on in new, likely far more sophisticated, incarnations. But the raw power of something so intoxicatingly unpredictable won’t. All I can say is that nothing’s ever been so aptly named.

Check out Chatroulette and you’ll tune into a massive array of unsavory things including (and not limited to) extremely frequent and  extremely zoomed-in anatomical unspeakables. Happily, you don’t have to keep said unspeakables on your screen any longer than it takes you to click a button.

But if you don’t feel like honing your reflexes, never fear. After readying ourselves with a small arsenal of props and disguises, we went on Chatroulette, so you don’t have to! Check out the gallery below! Many thanks to my brave weirdo friends, who made this glorious display of uncontrived oddness possible.



chat roulette

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Taylor has written 136 articles for us.


  1. Oh, Chatroulette… I saw a man pooping once. I also had a magical conversation with a hottie boombalottie AND THEN MY INTERNETZ FAILED and I will never be able to talk to her again. I had the pleasure of seeing a man comb his pubes. I thought that was a nice deviation from the typical penis assaults on my eyes. Despite these things, I can’t stop.

  2. Ok so, first of all “dude you are so in a meeting” haha!

    The things I can’t deal with so much on chatroulette is the amount of RACISM. Every other person types “nigger” to me, or tell me to ‘go eat chicken and watermelon” and quite frankly, I don’t take kindly to ‘nigger bitch.’ So that plus all the amount of penis makes me not go there so much.

  3. i love that i can depend on taylor to boldly go where i am too fucking terrified to go. the last screenshot is the best and makes me love the world.

    also i’m such a nosey bitch b/c all i want to do is read the stuff you blacked out.


    • hilariously, that guy LIVED AROUND THE CORNER FROM ME. like…he verified it in a believable way. and he didn’t believe me so i held up a piece of mail showing my zipcode. so that stuff is probs street intersections and also codewords and secret messages.

  4. I had never heard of this before reading you article (which was way to amusing). Logged onto the site while at work reading this and the first person I get is a dude with a sign that says Tits for Haiti. Might have to try it again later.

  5. That’s a very amazing robot costume. I wish I had one.

    I’d never heard of chatroulette before you mentioned it earlier this week. When I went to poke around and saw three penises.. I ran very far, very fast. It is unlikely I will ever return.

  6. One of my best friends and I entertained our whole history class by doing this on the front row… Him flirting shamelessly with the boys and me taking care of the (extremely few)girls. You would not believe how many “straight” guys enjoy the attention when they think no one is watching.


    my girlfriend and I also met a really cool kid in brooklyn who had a panda hat. we came across him three times in one sitting, and because he was always wearing a new hat, we rewarded him by making out. shhhhh, it was totally cool and empowering.

  8. Does the “looking for a random stranger” bother anyone else? The wording makes me feel a little dirty.

    Also, Chatroulette is not fun if you are on your roommate’s computer and he has no webcam. Most people don’t stay connected to you for very long if they can’t see you. I’m going downstairs to make a robot head and use my iMac…

  9. The last thing I want to see is dudes and their penis’.

    Did he actually make you a sandiwich?

    I cant wait to read this article when I’m sober. Its so hard right now without my glasses but i cant find them anywhere.

  10. So i went on this last night and kept the camera off and just kept hitting next to see wht I would come across…and just holy shit is all i have to say…

    the best was probably an invisible man dressed in hat and trenchcoat

  11. I think I need to try this with people, possibly while drinking. I went on it by myself recently (cleverly disguised in a Mexican wrestler mask) and was really freaked out by all the penises and guys asking to see my boobs, probably cause the alternative lifestyle haircut was covered.

    but when it was good, it was really good. i ran into someone else in the same mask! but he was naked otherwise, so it wasn’t that cool.

  12. I think this site will be best investigated with friends, booze and my Christopher Walken mask. This is the answer.

    So glad you guys braved it for us first. The mask is adorable. And the screen shots of the guy having a sammich and your reactions to it are HILARIOUS.

    I wish more of life’s encounters just ended with someone saying “You’re great, let’s have a beer!” The world would be so nice.

    So, um, Taylor… did you wear the bandanna to go with the wild west quote/theme?

  13. i’ve resisted getting a webcam b/c as soon as i get one my therapist is going to make me have skype-webcam therapy and i don’t like the idea of that at all. BUT i might have to get one just for this. DON’T TELL MY THERAPIST PLEASE. this looks awesome. i am drunk all of the time so i think i will be fine on the site.

    also Taylor, i just got alatheia (in greek) tattooed on my wrist b/c of how Heidegger changed my life with his expansion of alatheia in Being and Time, yo. So good reading!

  14. We tried it tonight, it was pretty weird. We also had the joy of being rejected by a frat boy at some sort of dorm party who said “Oh, it’s just a couple of lesbians” before clicking Next.

  15. I thought I’d use my first comment to share my CR story – after a long night of studying, I went into a total fugue and tried it out. I went through about four wieners in quick succession. Then, an image of these five, middle-aged, asian men popped up – totally at work and staring at me staring at them. We all sat there for a few seconds, then I waved… and they all waved back, super excitedly!

    We couldn’t communicate at all with each other – so we just waved and waved. It made my night/week.

    I haven’t been back on CR yet but I am living proof that there are little pockets of joy to be found amongst the sea of wieners. Good luck.

  16. Okay, I’m calling it. First time ChatRoulette experience @ 11:45 pm was sabotaged by the freak who thought it was okay to jerk-off while his dog licked, what I assume/hope was peanut butter, off his “goodybag”. Yup, no more ChatRoulette for me.

  17. There is A LOT of racism on Chatroulette. I’t’s like every other person is either a racist or someone with their dick out. That shit makes me so mad when people get all big and bold on the internet yet these peoples don’t have the balls to say it to my face.

  18. too bad, now people click ‘report’ just because they see a black face. When 3 people in at least five minutes do that, you get to sit out for a bit. Sucks because i like random as much as the next racist asshole.

  19. @50 Cams

    yikes! I think I’ve tried Roulette like a grand total of 6, 7 times now? Last night was the first time someone said “nigger” (as for my consolation I got to flick the first dude off. Other wise it’s 1)some dude jacking off 2)a group of kids 3)some bored white boy who tries to flirt.

    But i did get reported by some tween chicks who were disappointed in my gender.

  20. I got on chatroulette today because i got a laptop with a webcam for christmas. so many people have called me nigger or Willow Smith or asked me if im from africa or have been surprised that im black. They have all been white. And every other person is a guy jacking off or a black screen. Yet still i keep getting on chatroulette lol. Idk why. Its fun somehow… One girl(yes im a girl but im bisexual) said i was cute and i was her type. She looked like Megan Fox :) Maybe thats why i keep coming back lol. And she was white, which tells me that they arent ALL racist.

  21. I agree. There is a huge amount of racist online. I’m not too bad loooking…or at least i think i’m not.But sit my down in front of CR and it’s a row of nextsss. I counted 17 in a row.

    Some people look at me in shock and surprise to see that I’m black or decide that calling me the n-word shall appease them somehow. I was once asked if my vajay was purple. Another decided to just say “fried chicken”.

    Now why is it so hard to go online and actually talk to normal, non discriminating, individuals? It is beyond me.

  22. I think the most fun part of chatroulette, when you get past the dicks (anatomy and male persona), is convincing people you’re someone you’re not.

    One of my friends and I convinced someone else we were from … Norway, I think it was.

    I think it’s not always that bad … but maybe we just got lucky.

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