"IRC should provide a way for people to meet and talk with people around the world without leaving their homes," Ryan Gluesing, who goes by the handle boyeh, tells me. "Instead, it has evolved like the rest of the Internet, now a place full of pornography and illegal file sharing."
While some major networks such as DALnet have taken steps to alleviate illicit file distribution, the downloading of everything from Hollywood movies to electronic copies of today's bestsellers is a staple of the modern IRC network. However, the files are available to all -- queues, or lines, for a popular file might stretch into the hundreds or thousands. The availability and selection has become so well-developed, in fact, that illegal "dumps" (storage houses for illicit software) can reach into the terabytes.
So as the recording industry attacks file-trading software on all fronts, IRC users are secure with their way of life. The brutal firestorm that destroyed Napster and its clones has left IRC relatively untouched -- and the RIAA acknowledges this.
"There are thousands of areas out there, and it's a resource issue," Frank Creighton, senior vice president and director of anti-piracy for the RIAA, told Wired News in 2000. "I have limited resource capability, so we have to focus our efforts on more egregious areas." ["Forget Napster; IRC's the Place", Wired, 3/27/2000]
Close behind file-trading is the hacking community, the elite group of computer junkies with an arsenal of trojans and viruses at their command. A number of trojans, the most notable of a previous era being Subseven and Netbus, can actually connect to IRC to wait for commands from the author. These commands can be harmless ("eject CD tray") or more damaging, to the user ("delete every document from My Documents") or even to another entity altogether ("attack SCO.com"). [Remote control bots in action]
Why IRC? "[IRC] is unmoderated, private, and easy to access," Gluesing says. It is these traits that makes IRC the medium of choice for many virus writers and hackers. Many IRC users also have the ability to disconnect another user by force, making IRC a hostile and dangerous environment, particularly for Internet service providers.
This issue came fully to light last year when a number of servers on the DALnet network were attacked, at times quite ferociously, by a still unknown mastermind ["Attacks Fell an Online Community", Wired, 3/27/2003, "Could Attack on DALnet Spell End for IRC?", Internetnews.com, 1/24/2003]. Two of DALnet's most popular servers, 'twisted' and 'liberty', had to delink due to the amount of traffic their parent network was receiving. Very few ISPs will even consider linking to DALnet now, due to the potential for damage that comes with the community service.
Software to control exploited computers has lowered itself to such a level that even fifteen-year-old kids can build armies of drones to do their bidding.
A simple /list command while on IRC will demonstrate the extensiveness of this group. There are channels for every fetish: #0!!!!bifem-dogsex, #0!!!!!!!ltlgirlsexchat, #0!!!!!white_women_4_black_dick. The taboo is certainly in on IRC, where, shielded behind anonymity, sexual fetishists of every type can come together and discuss common interests.
"IRC is the only place I know of that has more fetishists, pedophiles and perverts than a low budget porn shop," an anonymous user says. It is perhaps the pedophiles that draw the most governmental attention, with growing worldwide concern over the exchange of child pornography.
And, on account of all this deviancy, there remains the group of users loyal to IRC itself. Many a friendship and even marriage has originated from IRC, and it has generated a following that simply uses the network to pass the time with friends.
"I'm here because I've been here for 7 years," Mike, who goes by the handle Stab-West, states. "And I can't bring myself to leave."
With the comparison of IRC to an online ghetto, it is necessary to ask, just what role does IRC play in the online community?
As much as fans of IRC will not admit it, the proportion of deviants to good citizens is not anything to write a sales pitch over; so why do ISPs continue to link to it and people continue to use it?