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Instant messages (or IMs) are a popular type of real-time Internet correspondence that allow one-on-one private dialogue or simultaneous multiple private exchanges. Usually in the form of a box or small screen in which sent and received messages are displayed, instant messages are text based, but can contain links, images, even voice transmissions. Instant messaging programs run in the background of your computer and pop up messages as they come in.

Instant messaging services, such as AOL’s Instant Messenger and Yahoo!’s Messenger, are very popular today. Often referred to as “texting,” instant messaging is a fast and inexpensive way for children and adults to stay in touch with friends and family.

Someone can send an invitation to text privately with another specific person online. “Buddy lists” that show user screen names, or “handles,” help users keep track of who’s available at any time.

IMs are often used in conjunction with chat rooms or other online activities.


  • To send an instant message, the sender must know the recipient's user name. Most programs ask for a user “profile.” It’s important that a child’s personal information not be revealed in such a profile because IMs can be conduits for inappropriate material. In addition, the real-time, private features of instant messaging make it attractive for sexual predators looking to establish contact with their targets. If the child is on their buddy list, they will know when the child is online.

  • Instant messages are sometimes used for harassment. However, some IM services allow a user to block selected other parties, which can help make such contact more difficult.

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