By John Isaac Edwards
In the last few years, Internet use has exploded. An estimated 10.1 million people are surfing the Web today. At present, one in ten households is connected and many other people use the Internet at work or as students.
The benefits of the Information Superhighway are many. As an educational tool, users can learn about virtually any topic. The Internet is also an effective outreach medium. It can be used for much good in spreading the gospel of Christ “in all the world” (Mark 16:15).
But, as with the real world, there are dangers lurking in the virtual world. This writing points out some Internet dangers, so we can avoid getting caught in the World Wide Web.
Accessability and Anonymity
One thing that makes the Internet so dangerous is that everything is so accessible, so immediate, just inches from our eyes. Sin is just a “point-and-click” away!
The anonymity of Cyberspace poses another threat. The feeling of being alone and unknown may tempt some to do things they might not otherwise do. But, you may not be as anonymous as you might think! You leave information behind every time you visit a site. Try visiting Anonymizer.com to get a glimpse of the sorts of information you present, often without knowing it, every time you surf the Net. It is also possible to check the addresses people have been visiting through history facilities on some browsers. Of course, God is aware of what we do on our computers. The Holy Spirit revealed, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).
Cyberstalkers and Child Predators
In a September 16, 1999 White House press release, Vice-President Al Gore said, “Cyberstalking is a very serious new problem confronting us in the information age.” Cyberstalking is unwanted, obsessive pursuit of an individual. At its worst, it becomes real-world stalking, with potentially dangerous and even deadly consequences. The most common forums for Cyberstalking are chat rooms and e-mail. In chat rooms, predators can pose as anyone, even as other children. Predators assume the personae of other kids who share the interests of those in the room. They may lurk for awhile, getting a sense of the various participants and picking up the rhythms of conversation. When they make their move, their words and phrases will be childlike. Whatever the approach, the goals are the same: to learn the child’s interests, win the child’s confidence and ensure the child keeps it a secret. Eventually the predator will suggest a meeting, and by then, it may be too late.
Safeguards such as being careful about to whom you give your e-mail address and never giving out your real name, home address, or phone number to strangers are important. Parents, be alert to any changes in your children’s behavior regarding the computer and time spent online. Have they become hesitant to use the computer when you are nearby? Do they become evasive when you ask about their computing activities? Do you know their passwords and screen names? As President Bill Clinton said in a radio address following the deadly Columbine school shooting, “Parents must know what their children are doing on their computers.” Monitoring your children’s computer time is simply a part of “bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
The most important thing to remember is that when you’re online in any kind of public forum, anyone can read whatever you post. You should also remember that people you meet in Cyberspace may not be who they seem to be.
Cults and Hate Groups
In the wake of their mass suicide, the members of the Heaven’s Gate cult remain the focus of a great deal of speculation, commentary, and concern over the role of cults on the Web. A cult is a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian or charismatic leader. There’s no question that cults have found homes on the Internet. We must make sure that our children can tell the difference between the Lord’s church and cults.
A host of conspiracy sites are cropping up on the Web, aimed at encouraging violence against a government portrayed as increasingly concerned with restricting our rights. New hate groups pop up every day, with new victims, new ways of demeaning and insulting familiar racial and religious targets, and new appeals to other lonely, disenfranchised people to join in the abuse. The Web is being used as a vehicle for gathering followers. If we’re not careful, we may be lured in.
Pornography is a huge and growing Cyberspace draw! There are now at least 40,000 sex oriented sites on the Web, and probably thousands more. According to Nielsen Net Ratings, 17.5 million surfers visited porn sites from their homes in January, a 40 percent increase compared with four months earlier. Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material is big e-business! Overall, Web surfers spent $970 million on access to adult-content sites in 1998, according to the research firm Datamonitor, and that figure could rise to more than $3 billion by 2003. A recent study by researchers at Stanford and Duquesne Universities claims at least 200,000 Americans are hopelessly addicted to E-porn.
Pornography is lasciviousness, “excess, licentiousness, absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness; . . . the prominent idea is shameless conduct” (W.E. Vine), and Paul said, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19, 21). Pornography also violates the principle taught by Jesus in Matthew 5:28: “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
According to National Web Demographics, 43.6% access the Web one to four times a day during a typical week and 36% spend seven or more hours on the Web during a typical week. A GVU WWW User Survey shows that 34% use their Web browsers 0-20 hours per week and 21-22% use them 21-40 hours. Some people’s online habits make it hard for them to be off-line. According to a study by Dr. Kimberly Young, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, the Internet can have the same addictive effects as gambling or drinking. We must be careful not to become Cyber-addicts.
We must remember to use our time wisely. Paul wrote, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). Spending too much time on their computers, many may neglect spiritual responsibilities such as Bible study, prayer, personal evangelism, hospitality, visiting, and the like. How much time do you spend on the Internet?
A 1998 survey from Barna Research revealed 16% of teens said that, within the next five years, they expect to use the Net as a substitute for church-based religious experiences. The report also mentioned “a Cyberchurch that will bring people together on line.”
I have some questions for those seeking to launch a Cyberchurch:
1. How would you go about observing the Lord’s supper? A reading of 1 Corinthians 11:20-34 will show the scriptural manner of observing the Lord’s supper requires the church coming together “into one place.”
2. What do you do with Hebrews 10:25? The apostle to the Hebrews penned, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” To launch a Cyberchurch, you would have to throw Hebrews 10:25 out the window! There’s just no way we could assemble on a computer and worship God acceptably. The Internet must not become a substitute for assembling with the saints.
May each of us learn to be “street smart” on the Information Superhighway.
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