Copyright 2000 by Bill Lovegrove, all rights reserved. No copies may be made in any form, paper or electronic, without permission. Contact www.pilgrimworks.com for permission to reproduce this document.
Quick Introduction for Novices
The Problem Illustrated
Filter Comparison Chart
Cyberspace is a catchall term for the many different ways people communicate with their computers. It is a "space" in the sense that for many people the Internet is an imaginary world that they enter through their computer.
The Internet is a worldwide network that serves as a "phone system" for computers. Just as the telephone system allows any two people with a telephone to communicate, so the Internet allows any two computers (or computer users) with Internet access to communicate.
The Internet provides for numerous kinds of information exchange. The most important kinds are listed below:
- E-mail: A worldwide electronic post office
- World Wide Web: A giant library of information and electronic shopping mall
- Newsgroups: Bulletin boards where people post and exchange information
- Chat Rooms: A meeting place for people to have live conversations through their computers
New services are being developed continually. Internet radio is becoming popular, and Internet television is expected in the future. Phone calls can be made over the Internet. Other new services will likely appear in the future.
The World Wide Web, otherwise known as "The Web," is the most popular part of the Internet. Electronic documents, known as "web pages," from all over the world can be examined using a computer program called a "browser". These documents can contain graphics, sound, animations, and even movies. They also contain built in cross-references to other web pages, which makes browsing from document to document very easy. A user can spend hours following one cross-reference after another.
The Web is a popular way to publish information because:
There is little control over the quality of information found on the Web. Printing a book requires substantial effort. Even so, many books contain poor content. By contrast, producing a Web document is quite easy. Consequently, many of the documents found there contain frivolous, useless, or erroneous information.
Rarely do web sites charge for access. For example, there are a few magazines and newsletters available on-line for which you must pay a subscription fee, but this is still quite rare.
One unique aspect of the Internet is the capability for personal communication. Unlike watching TV, there are circumstances where you or your child can engage in conversation with a stranger. Unlike encounters in public places, however, the Internet can be private and anonymous. People can easily mask their true identity and intent. Thus parents need to pay special attention to those parts of the Internet which involve interpersonal communication.
There are several ways to communicate over the Internet. E-mail is the most familiar. E-mail is a quick, convenient, and inexpensive way for people to keep in touch. It is rapidly replacing the long distance phone call as the communication medium of choice for separated friends and family, as well as for missionaries in foreign countries. E-mail also has several disadvantages: It requires a computer and computer skills, works best only for text, encourages quick, sloppy, shallow communication, is not very private, and is a new channel for junk mail.
E-mail is usually exchanged between individuals. Chat rooms, on the other hand, are gathering places for groups of people in public conversation. Things you type in a chat room are immediately broadcast for all other participants to read. Things others type are shown immediately on your computer.
Newsgroups, contrary to their name, have little to do with news. They are more like bulletin boards where you can post messages and read messages posted by others.
Audible phone calls over the Internet are increasing in popularity. They are free, but the quality is still poor and the person you are calling must be already logged on to the Internet to receive the call.
In addition to "browsing" (viewing) documents on the Internet, you can copy files and computer programs to your computer. This is called "downloading." You can find free software to download from the Internet. You can purchase commercial software and download it immediately to your computer. Many books, manuals, and other documents are available for download as well.
However, much material on the Internet is copyrighted. You should be careful to download only things for which you have permission.
The Internet is affecting many aspects of our lives. You can shop, bank, invest, look for a house, check the weather, read the newspaper, have groceries delivered, get medical advice, and much more. A computer is not required - car radios and cell phones with Internet capability are available. Researchers are working on connecting even home appliances to the Internet. It will become harder and harder to avoid the Internet the future.
The following are all true stories.
Jake (not his real name) was a good guy. He had been active in his church for many years. He was a deacon, helping the church to reach out to young families. Previously, he taught a Sunday morning Bible study. He had a beautiful wife, Sarah, and two small children. Then he began to spend time on the Internet - sometimes late at night after everyone had gone to bed. He got curious and began visiting erotic chat rooms. There he met a woman from another state who was also married and had a child. They began to "chat" regularly on the Internet. Last year Jake left his wife and kids and moved in with his new Internet girlfriend. Eventually he divorced Sarah. Now she is a single mother trying to make sense out of the shock and heartache.
Joe (not his real name) had been a pastor for several years. He worked on his computer in the privacy of his office. After he got a modem he began locking his door and spending more and more time "working" on his computer. A staff member became suspicious and caught him viewing pornography. A check of the computer's history revealed that Pastor Joe had been viewing hard-core pornographic sites for almost a year. Joe was confronted and resigned as pastor. As of this printing, there are 60,000 pornographic web sites on the Internet. In addition to many free sites, sites that charge a fee are doing $1 billion worth of business a year, about 20 percent of the total business being done on the web. This part of the web has been growing at 40 percent a year.
Barbara (not her real name) had a happy marriage and two happy children. But Barbara was lonely. Her husband traveled frequently with his job. One day, he bought a computer and hooked it up to the Internet. He thought perhaps this would give her something to do while he was away. Before long his children began to report that Mommy was spending long hours locked up in the bedroom on the computer. Sometimes she would not even come out to prepare meals for them. Barbara's husband checked the history file on the computer and discovered that she had in fact developed an Internet relationship with another man.
There are over 600 hate sites on the web, some specifically designed to attract children. Pedophiles and other sexual predators are also a lurking danger on the internet. An FBI agent posing as a teenage girl logged into a chat room limited to 23 children. The 22 other "youths" all turned out to be adults seeking improper contact with her. A man broadcast live video of himself molesting a child and invited e-mail suggestions from those watching. The Internet has become the medium of choice for child pornography, and for perverted people seeking relationships with children.
The content is far worse than that on cable TV or in movies and magazines. All forms of extreme perversion are on open display.
People use computers alone behind closed doors - in their office at work or in their bedroom at home - where there is great temptation and little accountability.
The worst of the Internet is always just a click away. You can go from legitimate research to terrible sin in an instant.
Bad content on the web is not only easy to find, it is hard to avoid. Mistype a legitimate address by one letter and you might find yourself accessing something immoral, placed there on purpose to snare you. Search for innocent words and you might find links to wicked sites. Unsolicited e-mail can contain all manner of offensive content.
Electronic communication with people you don't know is "talking to strangers" in the fullest sense. The Internet allows people to pretend to be anything they want. That "12-year-old girl" striking up a conversation with your daughter might in fact be a middle-aged man.
There is so much useful and interesting information and so much potential for good. The Internet can consume vast amounts of time, and in some cases money. The possibilities seem endless, and that can blind you to the danger.
Web pages, FTP, newsgroups, chat rooms, MUDs, e-mail, pornography, gambling, satanism, hate sites, cheat sites, fake sites, Internet radio - there is no one magic tool or strategy to confront it all. To make matters worse, the Internet is growing and changing almost daily. New services and new sites are being added constantly.
It is easy to put false or misleading information on the web, or maliciously to attribute fraudulent information to the wrong source.
Proverbs 7:26 says, "Many strong men have been slain by her [the harlot]." David, the man after God's own heart, committed adultery. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, let women turn his heart from the Lord. Samson, the strongest man who ever lived, ruined his life through immoral relationships. 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall." Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
Proverbs 9:17 says, "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But the dead are there." Even mature Christians are susceptible to secret sins. Ezekiel 8:12 says, "Hast thou not seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chamber of his imagery? for they say, The Lord seeth us not."
1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." You may sincerely intend never to go seeking wicked things on the Internet, but be assured that someday the devil will bring it to you. The strange woman "lieth in wait at every corner" (Proverbs 7:12) to catch a young man.
People say things in e-mail and chat rooms that they would never say in person. People develop relationships that would never happen in normal social settings. In Exodus 33:11 God says that "face to face" is the way friends speak. Paul wrote lengthy letters to the Corinthian church but left some problems to be handled in person (1 Cor. 11:34). In 2 John 12 the apostle John spoke of a need not just to write but to speak to his audience "face to face." E-mail is useful for communicating with people you already know, but beware of the relationships that develop solely through the computer.
In 2 Peter 2:8, Peter says that by merely "seeing and hearing" the sin of Sodom, Lot "vexed his righteous soul." Even if you are not seeking evil, it harms your spirit to be constantly exposed to it."
Don't accept the devil's lie that "just looking" is OK. Christ said, "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Peter told Simon, "Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee" (Acts 8:22).
The Internet is not the only place you will encounter inappropriate images. Magazine racks, newspaper ads, TV commercials, and billboards can all present a constant drain on your spirit. Don't needlessly expose yourself to any of it. Psalm 101:3 says, "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes." And Job 31:1, "I made a covenant with mine eyes." Don't become desensitized to evil.
Joseph stayed away from a dangerous situation. Genesis 39:10 says he refused even "to be with her [Potiphar's wife]." Delete suspicious looking e-mail without reading it. Use filtering and blocking software to help you minimize encounters with tempting materials. Use high quality search engines to minimize tempting links. Stay out of chat rooms.
Proverbs 5:19 advises men to find their joy and fulfillment in their own wife only. The principle also applies to singles - do not do anything that will damage a future relationship.
When a man sees a photograph of a woman, or a woman strikes up a conversation in a chat room, remember that an individual is involved, not an object or an abstract personality. In describing David's sin with Bathsheba, God reminds us that she was "the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah" (2 Samuel 11:3). Every woman is somebody's daughter, potentially somebody else's wife. How do you want people looking at your daughter or your wife? How do you want other women to talk to your husband?
Nearly everyone knowledgeable about the Internet, including secular people, recommends that children not use the Internet unsupervised. This applies to children of all ages including (perhaps especially) teenagers. The dangers are too numerous and the technical solutions too imperfect to take chances. Make sure your Internet access is protected with a password you are sure your kids don't know. Never let them browse the web alone, at your house or at a friend's house. Monitor their emails. Don't let them go into chat rooms alone. Don't underestimate your kid's technical expertise or susceptibility to temptation. Place the computer in a public room of your house to make it easy to supervise. Educate your kids about the dangers and establish clear guidelines.
Even if you never access anything inappropriate, what will people think if they know you use the Internet in an unsafe way? Do not give anyone reason to question your integrity. Set a good example for your children and for fellow Christians. David said, "I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way" (Psalm 101:2).
When you recognize a weakness, deal with it strongly. If pornography is an area of special weakness for you, don't have the Internet in your home! "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out" (Matthew 18:9). There are a growing number of public places like libraries where you can obtain Internet access if you really need it.
Are we being alarmist? Even the government and other secular authorities are sounding the alarm about the dangers of the Internet. As the previous testimonies show (see The Problem Illustrated), long-time believers are falling prey to these temptations. And the Internet is a more serious danger than the other worldly temptations a Christian faces (see The Danger).
Are we infringing on people's liberty? No Christian has a liberty to sin. Even of innocent things Paul wrote, "all things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient" (1 Corinthians 6:12). He wrote that it is good not to do any thing "whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Romans 14:21). He gave a warning to "consider thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).
All of the suggestions listed my not be appropriate for you and your family, but surely this is an area where Christian people must be particularly sober and vigilant (1 Peter 5:8).
Some will suggest that, given the dangers present on the Internet, perhaps we ought to "just say no" and refuse to have anything to do with it. For some people, this might indeed be the best approach. The fact that "everybody is doing it" doesn't mean that you and your family have to. Just as many people get along without the "indispensable" television, so many people can probably get along without the Internet.
That may sound extreme to some, but so were Christ's words in Matthew 18:9 when he said, "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." You can afford to give up the whole world if it means the saving of your soul (Mark 8:36).
On the other hand, the Internet is beginning to pervade society. It is much more than just an entertainment medium. Many people are required to use it in their jobs. Business is done there. Your kids will probably see it at school and at friends' homes. It may well become impossible to avoid. Whether you use it or not, you can't afford to be ignorant about it.
Short of a complete refusal to use the Internet, is there anything that can be done? One possibility is to use the growing number of public places where you can access the Internet. For example, many libraries now provide public Internet access. You can gain many of the benefits of the Internet without having it in your home.
Unfortunately, many libraries refuse to use any type of filtering or blocking software, out of censorship concerns. The public location might provide some deterrence to bad behavior but it won't stop you from stumbling across the worst of the Internet.
Christians are called to strike a careful balance between two competing ideas. On the one hand, we are to be strangers and pilgrims here (Hebrews 11:13), with our affections and treasures above (Colossians 3:2, Matthew 6:20). The fact that "everybody's doing it" should not be a concern to the Christian. We must avoid participation in evil regardless of the personal cost involved.
On the other hand, Christ said, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from evil" (John 17:15). He instructed us to be light and salt, on public display rather than hidden away where we can do no good (Matthew 5:13-16). A Christian family cannot withdraw from society without losing contact with the very people it is supposed to be ministering to. The Internet may well be the Mars Hill of our day, and we need some modern day Pauls to stand up in it and proclaim the truth of God's Word.
Nevertheless, it is important to realize that when we venture out onto the Internet, we are entering pagan territory. Mars Hill is not a place a Christian goes for entertainment or companionship. "For what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 6:14). This principle goes far beyond just the Internet, to address our attitudes towards TV, videos, even the mall. "Love not the world", John wrote, "neither the things that are in the world." (1 John 2:15) The world in the abstract doesn't sound tempting. But the world's things are another matter. Far too many Christians have their lives wrapped up in the world's things. The Internet is one of the world's things, and there is no protection software that can prevent worldly thinking.
The following sections describe the various types of filtering software available, with a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Some software will allow you to turn off or restrict services like FTP and Chat Rooms so that they cannot be accessed at all from your computer.
This software checks the content of everything you type, in e-mails and sometimes in other programs such as word processors as well. This software is often recommended for children, because it prevents them from typing their address, phone number, or other private information in an e-mail to a stranger. Unfortunately, such checking is inconvenient and ineffective, because computers are poor at understanding English text. For example, some programs will not let you type "is expected" because it contains the letters s-e-x.
Monitoring software creates a record of computer use for accountability. This can take many forms. For example, many e-mail systems automatically keep a copy of all outgoing e-mails. Many browsers keep a record of all sites visited. Programs can take "snapshots" of the computer screen at random times. Knowing there is some kind of accountability is one of the best deterrents to bad behavior.
A growing number of search engines will filter your search requests for you to minimize the chance of finding objectionable links. Regardless of what other steps you take, using filtered search engines is wise.
Dozens of products and services are on the market, and they are constantly changing. Any list of recommendations made here is likely to be out-of-date by the time you read it. Different families have different standards and needs. Consequently, it is important for you to research for yourself the software that is best for your family.
Some guidelines are given in the following section. Listing a filter here is for example only and does not constitute an unqualified endorsement.
The Bob Jones University Press has published a white paper providing good general guidelines for parents from a fundamental Christian perspective. It contains a frequently updated list of protection software. However, there are no reviews or recommendations. It can be found on the Web at:
Volumes of information are available on the Internet. Do a search at any major search engine for "child Internet safety."
|Filter quality||Accidental exposure risk||Browsing convenience|
|Excellent - you approve everything||Moderate - you have to personally determine site quality, which may result in viewing some bad sites by accident.||Low - you can't go anywhere new without changing the list.|
|Moderate - new sites sneak through||Moderate||High - most good sites are allowed, any accidentally blocked sites can be allowed on the spot.|
|Moderate - sites with only bad pictures sneak through||Moderate||High - most good sites are allowed, any accidentally blocked sites can be allowed on the spot.|
|Very good - someone has approved everything||Very low - every site has been pre-approved||Low - many good sites are left off the list and take a day or two to add.|
|Moderate - new sites sneak through||Moderate||Moderate - any good sites blocked by mistake take a day or two to get unblocked|
See the glossary and text for definitions and explanations of the entries in the table.
|Client||Internet Safety Kit