The Internet is the collective term to describe the worldwide network of computers. It was set up twenty five years ago as an experimental system funded by the US Department of Defence, and was later used by universities as a means of communication and sharing research information. In the last ten years, large corporations, industry, business, the media and the general public have begun to make significant use of the Internet. Its growth in the last few years has been nothing short of extraordinary. It has been described as “the fastest growing anything, anywhere”—with 500M pages of information being added per year and the number of users doubling every twelve months.

As technology improves and the demand grows, so the range of information, services and facilities available through the Internet continues to widen. It is now possible to listen to radio stations, watch television, view movies, buy and sell goods, do your banking, make telephone calls and send letters through the Internet. Eventually, the Internet is likely to have an impact on most aspects of everyday life.

The Benefits of the Internet

The Internet has a number of benefits when used appropriately—these include inexpensive and very rapid communication through email, and access to enormous quantities of information from anywhere in the world via the World Wide Web—including information in other languages translated ‘on the fly’ to overcome the language barrier.

The Dangers of the Internet

The Internet also has some severe disadvantages that brethren and sisters of Christ (particularly those with children) need to be aware of. At the base of these problems is the fact that there is no regulation on what information can be made available or what facilities can be accessed through the Internet. This leads to a number of potential problems.

In brief the dangers may be summarised as follows:

  •  easy access to inappropriate material
  •  inappropriate use of Internet facilities (eg. Email,chat lines)
  •  establishment of false authority/importance

Access to Inappropriate Material

Since the Internet is unregulated, anyone can put information on a web site, whether accurate or inaccurate, moral or immoral, legal or illegal. Material of every type appears. This includes very significant amounts of highly inappropriate material.

Having access to the Internet has been likened to having an enormous magazine rack in your home that contains material on every subject imaginable. Anyone can add a ‘magazine’ of any kind, and anyone in the family can read the ‘magazines’ any time they like. From this analogy, a significant problem becomes apparent, namely, that morally objectionable material is easily available and accessible inside the home at any time. Recent statistics demonstrate that there is a huge and growing industry in Internet pornography (as reported by US News and World Report, 27/3/00)

  •  “There are now at least 40,000 pornography sites on the World Wide Web and probably thousands more. No one has been able to count them all.”
  •  “According to Nielson NetRatings, 17.5 million surfers visited porn sites from their homes in January, a 40% increase compared with 4 months earlier.”
  •  “Web surfers spent US$970 million on access to adult-content sites in 1998 and it is expected to rise to more than US$3 billion by 2003”.

The level of immorality is far worse than any form of media that is legally available in Australia. The world has always provided various ways to access immoral material, but it hasn’t always been as easy, convenient or affordable. With the Internet, access can now easily be gained to immoral material in the home—thus increasing temptation. Paul exhorts, “make not provision for the flesh” (Rom 13:14).

Apart from the ease of deliberate access to immoral material, it is possible and increasingly likely, that such material can be seen accidentally. There have been many examples of people seeking completely innocent information on the World Wide Web through a search engine, and accidentally accessing a site containing immoral material. Furthermore, some sites deliberately use misleading words to attract people (including children) accidentally. Another less common occurrence is ‘hijacking’—where a person using the World Wide Web is forcibly taken to immoral sites while attempting to move normally from one legitimate site to another. A further temptation is sometimes provided through Web advertisements, which only need to be clicked to take the user to an inappropriate site.

These kind of accidental exposures do not happen every time the World Wide Web is used. However, a regular user is certainly likely to experience them. A US survey found that “53% of teens have encountered offensive Web sites that include pornography, hate or violence. Of these, 91% unintentionally found the offensive sites while searching the Web”. (Source: Yankelovich Partner survey, The Safe America Foundation, 30/9/99)

There is no doubt that it is making a significant impact in some areas of ecclesial life—and not just in teenage years. There are young Christadelphian lads who are having terrible problems with the temptation of immoral material. Images are scarred permanently onto young minds and consciences are seared.

Inappropriate Use of Internet Facilities

Apart from the use of the World Wide Web, there are other features of the Internet which can be abused. Email can provide a valuable means of communicating with others, but there are dangers here too. In recent times the use of email has grown within the brotherhood. But so too has its abuse. Email has been used in recent years to pass on much misinformation about other brethren to a wide range of others. Segments of correspondence between brethren have been irresponsibly passed to many others causing distress and grief. The spirit of Christ needs to pervade our use of email, as it should all our dealings with our brethren. Further, email has become a common ‘communication tool’ for the youth of today. Some young people are spending very large amounts of time daily answering emails of little consequence and of doubtful value. Another potentially dangerous feature of the Internet is the Chat facility. Using this, it is possible to carry on a real-time conversation with one or many people in an imaginary ‘room’. There are examples of our young people spending hours each night in conversation with unknown users elsewhere. This is particularly dangerous for children.

We need to ensure that the technology and the facilities it provides do not distract us from the important issues of our lives. Paul exhorts us to redeem the time, for the days are evil (Eph 5:16).

Establishment of False Authority/Importance

The very nature of the Internet and its pervasiveness leads people to attach to it an authority and importance that is unwarranted. Whilst there is much information on the Web which is accurate and perhaps authoritative, it is sometimes very difficult to discern between this and information which is flawed or inaccurate. A generation of children are now growing up feeling more comfortable with computers than with books, and whose first inclination when trying to find out anything on any subject is to turn to the Internet. Many children (and some adults) see the Internet as a huge encyclopaedia without realising that it lacks the overall credibility of traditional encyclopaedias. This sometimes leads children into pressurising parents to provide access to the Internet at home on the grounds that it is necessary for their education.

Recommendations Regarding the Internet in the Home

Many of the dangers of the Internet arise because it is the mind of the flesh, largely uncontrolled and unchecked, that influences its uses and content. We need to carefully consider bringing such a facility into the sanctuary of our homes. Even people in the world appreciate the dangers and have taken the trouble to monitor Internet use in workplaces and develop software which restricts facilities and content that can be accessed (particularly by children and young people).

It is important to honestly and prayerfully weigh up the benefits and risks on our spiritual development of installing the Internet in our homes. Individuals and families must make their own decisions, but brethren and sisters are urged to consider the following recommendations :

1 If it is not essential to have Internet access at home, don’t get it.

At this stage, there is no educational reason why children need access to the Internet at home, and while pressure may be applied, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Where necessary, access can be gained at school or at a public library. In time, the Internet may become more pervasive in our society and may begin to be a necessary appliance. However, to date, it can only be described as a convenience (and a dangerous one), not as a necessity and so we encourage you to resist the world’s trend.

2 If Internet access is only required for email, get email-only access, rather than access to the whole Internet (World Wide Web etc.)

One of the most convincing arguments for Internet use is to be able to communicate quickly and efficiently with friends and family via e-mail. This should not be used as a justification for exposing the whole family to the dangers of the Internet. A Telstra Easymail account, for example, will fill this need and keep the family safer. It is advisable to avoid the use of ‘free’ email accounts (eg Hotmail etc) which many young people have. As advertisers fund these accounts, a large number of unsolicited emails are regularly sent to these addresses, with contents ranging from the bland to the perverse.

3 Only have full Internet access at home if it is essential (eg for work purposes).

If this is the case, the following strategies should be employed to control its use. These can be effective, but are not foolproof.

  •  Education—Parents need to be aware of the potential dangers of the Internet before installing it at home, and decide on clear guidelines for its use. Further, it is important to discuss their expectations and responsible behaviour with their children.
  •  Parental SupervisionDirect supervision of children’s Internet usage is one failsafe way of ensuring that they do not access any undesirable material. Children or adults should never just idly ‘surf the net’. Not only is it a waste of time, but it is easy to wander onto dangerous ground. The flesh is strong, and neither we nor our children are immune to the impulses of our nature.
  •  Conspicuous Location—Place the computer in an open area, where it can be readily seen by the whole family. Computers with Internet access should never be hidden in bedrooms where inappropriate use can easily take place without others knowing.
  •  Password Protection—If only parents know the password to log-on onto the Internet a further level of protection is provided to ensure that the facilities are only used when necessary for productive purposes.
  •  Net Monitors—A net monitor is a piece of software that allows parents to track the family’s Internet usage and, in many cases, prevent access to inappropriate sites. These are useful, but not foolproof.

One very important part of our response to the dangers of the Internet is to redouble our efforts to strengthen our consciences and those of our children, so that when confronted with temptations, we will be able to resist them. We should be very careful to ensure that technology does not dictate our priorities, and put us or our families at risk of losing sight of the wonderful hope we have and the purpose of our lives. Whilst we live in a world amongst a corrupt and adulterous generation, the need to daily “be renewed in the spirit of our minds” becomes more urgent. Like the prophets and faithful of previous generations, we need to hide the Word of God in our hearts (Psa 119:9,11) for “in the fear of Yahweh is strong confidence” (Prov 14:26).