The Internet—Why Be Cautious?
THE Internet certainly has potential for educational use and day-to-day communication. Yet, stripped of its high-tech gloss, the Internet is beset with some of the same problems that have long afflicted television, telephones, newspapers, and libraries. Thus, an appropriate question may be, Is the content of the Internet suitable for my family and me?
Numerous reports have commented on the availability of pornographic material on the Internet. Does this suggest, though, that the Internet is merely a cesspool full of sexually perverted deviants? Some contend that this is a gross exaggeration. They argue that one must make a conscious and deliberate effort to locate objectionable material.
It is true that one must make an intentional effort to find unwholesome material, but others argue that it can be located with much greater ease on the Internet than elsewhere. With a few keystrokes, a user can locate erotic material, such as sexually explicit photos including audio and video clips.
The issue of how much pornography is available on the Internet is currently a hotly debated subject. Some feel that reports suggesting a pervasive problem may be exaggerated. Yet, if you learned that there were not 100 poisonous snakes in your backyard but only a few, would you be any less concerned for your family’s safety? Those who have access to the Internet would be wise to exercise caution.
Beware of Those Who Prey on Children!
Recent news coverage has shown that some pedophiles join on-line interactive chat discussions with young people. Posing as young children, these adults have slyly extracted names and addresses from unsuspecting youngsters.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has documented some of this activity. For example, in 1996, police found two South Carolina, U.S.A., girls, ages 13 and 15, who had been missing for a week. They had gone to another state with an 18-year-old male they met on the Internet. A 35-year-old man was charged with luring a 14-year-old boy into an illicit sexual encounter when his parents were not home. Both cases began with dialogue in an Internet chat room. Another adult, in 1995, met a 15-year-old boy on-line and boldly went to his school to meet him. Still another adult admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old girl. She had used her father’s computer to communicate with teenagers via on-line bulletin boards. She too met this adult on-line. All these youngsters had eventually been persuaded to reveal their identities.
Need for Parental Guidance
While cases such as the above are relatively infrequent, parents must nevertheless examine this matter carefully. What resources are available to parents to protect their children from being targets of crime and exploitation?
Companies are beginning to offer tools that range from rating systems similar to those for movies, to word-detection software that filters out undesirable content, to proof-of-age systems. Some approaches block material even before it reaches the family’s computer. Most of these approaches are not foolproof, however, and can be circumvented by various methods. Remember, the original design of the Internet was to make it resistant to disruptions, so censorship is difficult.
In an interview with Awake!, a police sergeant who supervises a child exploitation investigation group in California offered this advice: “There is no substitute for parental guidance. I have a 12-year-old child myself. My wife and I have allowed him to use the Internet, but we make it a family affair and place careful safeguards on the amount of time we’ll spend.” This father is especially cautious regarding chat rooms, and he places firm restrictions on their use. He adds: “The personal computer is not in my son’s room but in an open area of the home.”
Parents need to take an active interest in deciding what use of the Internet, if any, they will permit for their children. What practical and reasonable precautions should be considered?
Staff writer David Plotnikoff of the San Jose Mercury News offers some useful tips to parents who decide to have Internet access at home.
• Your youngsters’ experience is most positive when they work with you, as they learn the value of your judgment and guidance. Without your direction, he warns, “all the information on the Net is just like water without a glass.” The rules you insist on are “an extension of the common-sense things you’ve told your kids all along.” An example would be your rules regarding speaking to strangers.
• The Internet is a public place and should not be used as a baby-sitting service. “After all, you wouldn’t just drop your 10-year-old off in a big city and tell him or her to go have fun for a few hours, would you?”
• Learn to recognize the difference between Internet locations for playing games or chatting and places for getting help with homework.
The NCMEC pamphlet Child Safety on the Information Highway offers several guidelines to young people:
• Don’t reveal personal information such as your address, your home telephone number, or the name and location of your school. Don’t send photos without your parents’ permission.
• Inform your parents immediately if you receive information that makes you feel uncomfortable. Never respond to messages that are mean or aggressive. Tell your parents right away so that they can contact the on-line service.
• Cooperate with your parents in setting up rules for going on-line, including the time of day and length of time to be on-line and the appropriate areas to visit; stick to their decisions.
Bear in mind that precautions are also beneficial for adults. Some adults have already become ensnared in unwanted relationships and serious problems because of their carelessness. The mystique of chat rooms—the lack of eye contact and the anonymity of aliases—has lowered the inhibitions of some and created a false sense of security. Adults, take note!
Keeping a Balanced View
Some of the material and many of the services found on the Internet have educational value and can serve a useful purpose. Growing numbers of corporations are storing internal documentation on their internal networks, or intranets. Emerging Internet-based video and audio conferencing have the potential for permanently changing our travel and business-meeting patterns. Companies use the Internet to distribute their computer software, thus reducing costs. Many services that currently use personnel to handle business transactions, such as travel and stock-brokerage services, will likely be affected as users of the Internet are empowered to handle some or all of their own arrangements. Yes, the effect of the Internet has been profound, and it will likely continue as an important medium for sharing information, conducting business, and communicating.
Like most tools, the Internet has beneficial uses. Yet, there exists the potential for misuse. Some may choose to explore the positive aspects of the Internet further, while others may not. A Christian is not authorized to judge another’s decisions on personal matters.—Romans 14:4.
Using the Internet can be like traveling to a new country, with many new things to see and hear. Travel requires that you display good manners and take sensible precautions. No less is needed if you should decide to get on the Internet—the information superhighway.
[Blurb on page 12]
“The personal computer is not in my son’s room but in an open area of the home”
[Blurb on page 13]
The Internet is a public place and should not be used as a baby-sitting service
[Box/Picture on page 11]
The Need for Courtesy and Caution
Learn the rules of courtesy and protocol. Most Internet service providers publish thoughtful and acceptable guidelines for conduct. Other users will appreciate your sensitivity and good manners.
Some discussion groups debate religious or controversial matters. Be careful about posting comments to such discussions; likely your E-mail address and name will be broadcast to all in the group. This often results in time-consuming and unwanted correspondence. Indeed, there are some newsgroups that are unfit to read, let alone interact with.
What about creating a discussion group, or newsgroup, for fellow Christians? This may present greater problems and dangers than initially expected. For example, individuals with ulterior motives have been known to misrepresent themselves on the Internet. Currently, the Internet itself does not enable individuals appearing on it to confirm identities. Furthermore, such a group can be compared in some ways to a large, ongoing social gathering, taxing the time and ability of its host to provide necessary and responsible supervision.—Compare Proverbs 27:12.
[Box/Picture on page 13]
How Valuable Is Your Time?
In this 20th century, life has progressively become more complicated. Inventions that have worked to the advantage of some have often turned out to be time wasters for many. Further, immoral and violent TV programs, pornographic books, degrading music recordings, and the like are examples of technologies that have been misused. They not only eat up precious time but also damage people spiritually.
Of course, a Christian’s first priorities are spiritual matters, such as reading the Bible daily and getting well acquainted with priceless Scriptural truths discussed in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and other publications of the Watch Tower Society. Everlasting benefits come, not from surfing the Internet, but from using your time to take in knowledge of the only true God and of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to apply it zealously.—John 17:3; see also Ephesians 5:15-17.