by Dr. Sharon Short
I was shocked and horrified recently to learn that a highly esteemed academic colleague of mine had been arrested. Ripples of damage continue to spread to the institutions where he taught; the professional associations to which he belonged; the publishers of his writings; and students, faculty, administrators, and friends with whom he worked. If he is convicted, his career will be destroyed and his reputation ruined. Much is still unknown and the legal processes have barely begun, but even in these early stages it appears that illicit internet use brought about this dreadful downfall.
This tragedy serves as a sobering reminder that not one of us is immune to the insidious lure of sin. If “the last person on earth” whom we would expect to commit a particular crime is found entangled in it, then we too could fall. Therefore we must all be aggressively intentional about avoiding even the appearance of evil and about building reliable warning and accountability structures into our lives.
Specifically with regard to online practices, many of us are still far too naïve about the potential dangers of internet involvement and about the addictions that can result. We might think that we are safe because we are perusing sites and sending messages from the seclusion of our own homes or offices. The reality of course is that, in spite of all those “privacy policies,” the internet is anything but private. It quite literally is a worldwide web through which anyone in the whole wide world can potentially find out what any other person has been up to. The obvious application is to never view, post, download, “like,” or forward anything that we would not be equally willing to print in a newspaper, preach from a pulpit, paint on a billboard, or publish in a book, nor to say or do anything via the internet that we would not want anyone else in the whole world to know about. Recognizing the internet for the totally public information-sharing forum that it is will go a long ways toward deterring usage that could lead to immoral or illegal behaviors.
Many of us are also unaware of the excellent safeguards that are currently available. It is possible to install software on our personal and work computers that records and reports to our designated accountability partners every image we view and every word we write. The prudent move of voluntarily submitting to internet accountability and surveillance software now—well before we encounter any actual temptation—could spare us, our families, and our associates incalculable grief in the future.