By Steve Ensley, American Family Online President
October 1998 – Remember the 1975 blockbuster film, Jaws, the movie that made everyone swim a little closer to shore? I particularly remember the scene in which the great white shark claimed its first victim. A young lady had gone for a swim in the ocean at night,never expecting what the rest of us knew was about to happen. Then it was too late.
Swimming the waters of the Internet can be like that. All looks calm on the surface, but underneath in the dark, cyber-sharks lie in wait to claim a naive victim.
While you can find an incredible catch of wonderful information in the Internet ocean, the trick is to avoid the dangerous waters. New safe navigating tools such as the protection software used by American Family Online coupled with some basic knowledge can insure your family doesn’t become a cyber-shark snack. Here are three major dangers to avoid.
The Internet has become arguably the primary delivery system for pornography into our homes. There are over 300,000 web sites dedicated to providing pornographic material. Most sites charge for their service, but some are free and even those who charge for their sites provide free samples intended to lure the curious. Normally the only protection is a warning screen which does not prevent access. It is a voluntary warning and many sites do not even comply with this minimal standard.
The pornographers have gotten very clever in naming the sites so that just about any word search you conduct will return addresses for pornographic sites. Imagine your child doing school research on a space project and entering the acronym for our space agency, NASA. This search will deliver the space site address, but also several other sites with similar names and these sites are undisguised porn sites. With 250-300 new pornographic sites added every day, it can be very difficult for even the most innocent person to avoid the pornographic sites.
The seemingly innocuous practice of Internet users talking to each other live through a town square type forum called a chat room is extremely popular. This particular function is very popular with adolescents and others who are seeking companionship. It seems like a great way to make friends and many times it is, but it is also a primary hunting ground for pedophiles and kidnappers. A pedophile will pretend he is a teenager and strike up a conversation in a chat room with other teenagers. Since users can’t see or hear one another in a chatroom, they are dependent on what is typed into the computer as their only source of information. This allows a predator to appear to be very friendly and non-threatening. He can portray any image he likes and then he lures unsuspecting children into a trusting relationship based on falsehoods. The next step by the pedophile is to arrange a person-to-person meeting with the child and the crime is committed. Some times this results in children disappearing forever. This is no longer an infrequent occurrence. It happens every day and many lives are destroyed as a result of this so-called fun activity.
Violence, Vulgarity and Racism
As the world increasingly rejects God, the void is filled with violence, vulgarity, racism and every other form of sin that can be imagined. The Internet has become a favorite place for promoting violence including bomb making and illegal militia groups among others. It has also become a forum for every type of vulgarity and racism under the guise of free speech. As was noted before,the Internet makes it possible for almost anyone to express himself to a world wide audience and some use this to express every form of hate.
So far, we have painted a very bleak picture of the Internet, but there are some things you can do to enjoy the best of the Internet and avoid the worst.
For starters,try to find an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that has filtering and blocking at the server level. Blocking at that level is far more effective since it is constantly updated. Some services even provide a filter with no override. Ask your ISP if they have a filter and ask them if the override can be eliminated. The best filters will block out 98% of the bad sites and make it harder to get to the remaining sites.
Put your computer in a public place in your home. Never put the computer in a child’s room where he can access the Internet for hours without direct supervision. Excessive time on the good sites can also be harmful. Even the advertising that is seen on good sites can be graphic and unsuitable. You need to be able to see what your child is doing. Along with this, there should be no access of the Internet without parental supervision. Put a password on your machine to prevent access in your absence. This applies to ALL ages of children, not just the younger ones.
Know what your children are using on the Internet. Make it a point to be as comfortable with the Internet as your children are and make sure you know how to monitor the Internet areas they have used. Almost all Internet software has a history tracking capability. Know how to use it and check it frequently. This is NOT a privacy issue for minors. You do not let them view bad movies or television and they should not be allowed unsupervised access to the Internet.
Never participate in chat rooms. Even the good ones (which are actually a favorite target) can leave you open to becoming a victim of criminal activity. When you need to communicate, use E-mail and never give your address or telephone number unless you know exactly to whom you are talking! And don’t give out your E-mail address freely without some discernment. Be peaceful like a dove, but wise like a fox!
Parents,be the best models. Children will watch what you do. For your own sake and for theirs, never access Internet sites that contain the materials that are so destructive. If you have a filter, use it yourself and never turn it off. Many marriages have been destroyed because of Internet pornography and chat room romances that have developed. In fact the spiritual and emotional adultery that is committed on the Internet is becoming epidemic.
In summary,be watchful and discerning and the Internet tool will be a tremendous aide to you and your family. Ignore the risks and your family will be hurt.
In future articles we will be talking about the tremendous good that can be accomplished on the Internet. Look for articles on audio, video, your own web sites, ministries, and much more.