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In today's world, Internet proficiency is a requirement to be a successful student and an effective life-long learner. Increasingly, learning requires you to create and share ideas and content and collaborate with others using online tools. As you are probably all too aware, however, the Internet is not always a safe place. While the web is replete with tools and resources that can help you learn and interact with your teachers and fellow learners, it is also home to violent, pornographic, obscene, and profane material. While BYU does its best to filter objectionable content, it is impossible to prevent access to all inappropriate content while still leaving access open to that which is worthwhile and redeeming. That is why you should develop and strengthen your own internal filters to keep you safe when external filters fail or are not present.

 

Resources

web content safeA growing number of government and non-profit agencies are focusing on the challenges of filtering inappropriate content and managing the risks that come with being online.

Web browsers also offer filtering options. Consult the help documentation for assistance in configuring your browser. Also check for browser add-ons that can provide additional protection.

Another simple precaution is to set filtering options when using search engines. When using Google Search, you can click on Preferences to the right of the search bar. In the SafeSearch Filtering section, set the search to a stricter filter. To save, scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Preferences.

 

Why Should I Worry?

 

Students and faculty at BYU agree to avoid Internet content and activities that are not "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy" (Articles of Faith 1:13). The BYU Honor Code states:

 

Be safe browsing web cotentAll students shall be required to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the principles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the BYU Honor Code. . . . Involvement with gambling; pornographic, erotic, or indecent material; disorderly, obscene, or indecent conduct or expressions; or with other offensive materials, expressions, or conduct or disruption of the peace that, in the sole discretion and judgment of the university, is inconsistent with the principles of the Church and the BYU Honor Code is not permitted in student housing. . . . The standards expressed above apply to students at all times whether on or off campus.

 

Not only does viewing pornographic content jeopardize your status at BYU, it demeans Heavenly Father's children, it "destroys spirituality," and "inflicts mortal wounds on our most precious personal relationships" (See Elder Dallin H. Oaks' talk on Pornography).

 

In the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, we learn that we should not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, pornographic in any way, or that presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable. These same rules still apply on the Internet. Viewing degrading material on the Internet dulls your sensitivity to the Spirit and can make you less able to respond to others in a sensitive and caring way. Viewing pornography on the Internet is extremely dangerous as it can take control of your life, lead you to sexual transgression and criminal behavior, and also impact the relationships you have with your friends and family.

 

If you find it difficult to avoid inappropriate sites, we encourage you to take immediate action. Restrict your use of computers to a public area. Wherever possible, install filtering software on the computers you use. Ask for assistance from leaders, friends and family members. Confession to your bishop will play any essential role in this process:

 

An unintentional encounter with pornography may not require confession to your bishop. However, if you seek out pornography intentionally or if you repeatedly indulge in it or rationalize its use, you should discuss the matter with your bishop.

 

Your bishop cares about your spiritual welfare. He wants to help you. You may feel reluctant to disclose your problem with pornography to him. You may feel embarrassed or unsure of what to expect. Do not allow your fears to deprive you of the blessings of repentance. Through the Spirit, your bishop can understand your concerns, and he will help you repent. He can become a great ally.

 

Be honest with your bishop. Do not hide or minimize your sin. Your honesty will help him understand the extent and seriousness of your problem. He will keep your discussions confidential (See Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts).

 

Together with your bishop, you may decide that you need professional counseling to help you overcome pornography. Free and confidential counseling services are available through the BYU Counseling and Career Center located in the Wilkinson Center. 

Tools, Tips & Tactics

The University provides a network-level filtering service to block pornographic, obscene and offensive content. This filtering service protects you while you are accessing the Internet through the campus network, i.e., when you are on campus and are connected (via wired or wireless access) to BYU's network. BYU's network-level filtering technology allows us to block entire domains (e.g., playboy.com) and not specific pages or content on websites. If you take a BYU-owned laptop off campus or you use a BYU-owned desktop off campus (e.g., in your home for work purposes), it is NOT protected by BYU's network-level filter because you are accessing the Internet via a third party (e.g., through your phone or cable company or another Internet service provider).

Individuals can implement an additional layer of protection against inappropriate content by installing device-level filters on desktop and laptop computers. The most recent Mac and Windows operating systems have content filtering features built in. Device-level filtering software is designed to prevent access to inappropriate content on an individual computer. While features vary from one application to the next, filtering software generally allows users to set customized filtering levels for various content. Some filtering software also includes the ability for an administrator to limit the amount of time individual users spend online and to restrict the hours of the day that the Internet can be accessed. The more sophisticated filtering applications keep track of all computer activity, allowing the administrator to monitor each user's behavior.

Girl Using MacbookFor individuals, device-level filtering software provides an additional safety net to protect you from accidental exposure to inappropriate content. For groups (e.g., roommates sharing a computer or families), device-level filtering facilitates transparency and accountability.

While BYU does not promote or endorse any particular filtering software, we strongly encourage you to acquire and install device-level filtering software on the computers you use.

There are several good web filtering applications available, even some that are free. The information below is provided to help you decide which one best meets your needs.

What Features Are Important in a Filter?

  • Filtering algorithm – A good Internet filter uses an algorithm that includes keyword, dynamic, and URL filtering, rather than just one or two of those options.
  • Effective Filtering Capability – Quality Internet filters have the capacity to filter out objectionable content without filtering out too much content. Having the ability to put on a filter for each family member is a bonus.
  • Ease of Use – Select a filter that is easy to use and allows individuals of all ages and computer experience to install and effectively use the filter.
  • Cost – The cost of the filter may be a characteristic that you may want to consider. Some filters on the Internet are free, while others often range between $25 and $60.
  • Reporting Features – Many filters offer a variety of reporting features such as notification alerts, summary history reporting, graphing reporting, logging of security violations, etc.
  • Support – Some filter packages offer toll-free service. Others offer email responses. Understand the service level you will receive before installing a filter.

Browser & Website Filtering

 

Firefox and Internet Explore have some filtering capacity built in. You should review the "Help" documentation for your browser to learn more about how this works. Some browsers also allow for "add-on" applications that enhance functionality. For example, there is a Firefox add-on that blocks all flash animations on a web page. This will eliminate many of the "commercials" that appear on web pages, some which include inappropriate content.

Additionally, many websites allow you to control the kind of content visible to you.

External Filters May Not Be Enough

External technical barriers and filters serve an essential purpose. There are many among us who are weak or susceptible to particular temptations and external impediments to sin and vice can be invaluable, particularly in moments of weakness. There are also those who might inadvertently wander off the beaten path if the appropriate guideposts and warning signs are not in place. One of the best analogies for these external protections is a guardrail along the edge of a high mountain road. It is placed there to keep drivers safe. But drivers have to do their part—they have to obey the speed limit, stay in their lane, etc. If they do not, the guardrail might not be sufficient to prevent them from going over the edge. Certainly one who is intent on going over will find a way to do so, guardrail or not.

As important as external barriers might be, you are likely to find it increasingly difficult to implement and maintain effective technical solutions to what is essentially an internal moral challenge. For example, as technology continues to evolve, modestly priced, pervasive access to the Internet from cell phones and other mobile devices will become the norm for faculty and students. The providers of these inexpensive and high performance services may not share your views of what is appropriate and what is not, diminishing or even eliminating your ability to protect yourself with technical barriers. This trend amplifies the need to establish internal filters, the character and resolve to choose the right when no one is looking. Ultimately, only an unwavering internal commitment to doing good will protect individuals “at all times and in all things, and in all places.”

 

Read more about internal versus external filters. 

 

Words of Wisdom

Thomas S. MonsonPornography, the Deadly Carrier,” Pres. Thomas S. Monson

Ensign, July 2001, 2-5.

 

As we encounter that evil carrier, the pornography beetle, let our battle standard and that of our communities be taken from that famous ensign of early America, “Don’t tread on me.” Let us join in the fervent declaration of Joshua: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve; … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Let our hearts be pure. Let our lives be clean.

 

Gordon B. HinckleyA Tragic Evil Among Us” President Gordon B. Hinckley

October 2004 General Conference

 

I repeat, we can do better than this. We must do better than this. We are men of the priesthood. This is a most sacred and marvelous gift, worth more than all the dross of the world. But it will be amen to the effectiveness of that priesthood for anyone who engages in the practice of seeking out pornographic material.

 

 

Dallin H. Oaks  “Pornography,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks

April 2005 General Conference

Pornography impairs one’s ability to enjoy a normal emotional, romantic, and spiritual relationship with a person of the opposite sex. It erodes the moral barriers that stand against inappropriate, abnormal, or illegal behavior. As conscience is desensitized, patrons of pornography are led to act out what they have witnessed, regardless of its effects on their life and the lives of others.

L. Whitney Clayton “Blessed Are All the Pure in Heart” Elder L. Whitney Clayton

October 2007 General Conference

 

Along with losing the Spirit, pornography users also lose perspective and proportion. Like King David, they try to conceal their sin, forgetting that nothing is hidden from the Lord (see 2 Nephi 27:27). Real consequences start to accumulate as self-respect ebbs away, sweet relationships sour, marriages wither, and innocent victims begin to pile up. Finding that what they have been viewing no longer satisfies, they experiment with more extreme images. They slowly grow addicted even if they don’t know it or they deny it, and like David’s, their behavior deteriorates as their moral standards disintegrate.

 

 

External & Internal Filters

Network-Level Filtering

The challenge of content filtering for BYU is complex. The University provides access to the Internet via wired and wireless connections to faculty, staff and students when they are on campus. The University also provides off-campus network connectivity for many employees who travel or have a work-related need for Internet access at home. Additionally, many employees have University-provided cell phones that include data plans which allow access to the Internet. The current strategy of network-level filtering provides protection for employees and students only when they are on campus and only when they are accessing the Internet through the University’s network. When employees or students leave campus or use third-party connections to the Internet while on campus, the University’s network-level filtering has no efficacy. Moreover, the network-level filtering technology currently in place is a blunt instrument. Entire sites can be blocked, but growing number of media-rich sites have mixed content, i.e. the good is comingled with the bad. In these cases, the good is blocked along with the bad and access is limited to otherwise beneficial content.

Device-Level Filtering

Device-level filtering is an additional layer of technology available to filter content beyond the network-level. This software is aimed at filtering the kinds of content that can be viewed on a particular computer. There are several different providers of such software and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Some of this software functions much like network-level filtering, blocking or “white-listing” entire sites. Other software is more sophisticated, filtering or blocking content selectively within a site or even on a page. Some filtering software even allows administrators to limit the amount of time or time windows during which the Internet can be accessed. In almost every case, administrators have the ability to review users’ browsing histories. While many of these capabilities are now built into the latest versions of the Mac and Windows operating systems, software provided by third-party vendors is generally more robust, flexible and feature-rich.

Much like network-level filtering, device-level filtering is not without its drawbacks. Each device-level filtering application is based on a particular set of technologies and procedures to identify and filter content. Some are technology-based, relying on key words, computer image scans, content ratings, etc. Others are human-based, relying on the individual judgment of filtering service providers to decide whether or not content is appropriate. Invariably, content that most people would deem appropriate is over-blocked by these tools. Tools that allow administrators to create “white lists” of approved sites result in the most over-blocking. While white listing might be an effective approach in some cases, it is too restrictive for most purposes (e.g. conducting research using Google to search across millions of web sites). Most filtering tools provide a mechanism for overriding blocks or for requesting a re-categorization of blocked material. However, this can become a burden for an administrator who is required to review overrides and override requests. Such inconveniences notwithstanding, the added sense of accountability this approach affords might be worth the investment.

While device-level filtering, depending on how it is configured, can be too restrictive, there is a more serious challenge to consider. Even more troubling than over-blocking is problem of under-blocking. With the exception of white-listing tools (which allow access only to specifically approved sites and nothing else), no filtering technique can consistently and effectively block all inappropriate material. The content sources and technologies on the World Wide Web are too complex and varied and ever changing. No content filter is infallible. Invariably, some content will be under-blocked. Even with device-level filtering in place, users run the risk of being exposed to inappropriate web sites and web content.

Internal Filters

While external barriers and filters are essential tools in the fight against evil, it is important to recognize the limitations of such external protections. It is helpful to think of such tools as guardrails along the edge of a high mountain road. Guardrails are put in place to keep drivers safe. But drivers have to do their part—they have to obey the speed limit, stay in their lanes, etc. If they do not, no number of guardrails will be sufficient to prevent them from going over the edge. Certainly one who is intent on going over will find a way to do so, guardrail or not. And guardrails cannot be erected everywhere—there are bound to be gaps in the protection they provide. So it is with the external media filters we put in place. We can create a relatively safe environment in our apartments, dorm rooms, homes or offices. But the filters we put in place in those environments will not be present everywhere we go--Internet connections are unlikely to be filtered in all of our friends' homes, in hotel rooms we stay in, at public libraries, at Internet cafes and other locations.

While we should implement the most effective external filters we can identify, we are likely to find it increasingly difficult to implement and maintain failsafe external protections to address what is essentially an internal moral challenge. For example, as technology continues to evolve, modestly priced, pervasive access to the Internet from cell phones and other mobile devices is becoming commonplace. The providers of these inexpensive and high performance services do not always share our views of what is appropriate and what is not. And even the best Internet filters are not foolproof. There are bound to be gaps in the “guardrails” we put in place.

One of the most significant challenges we face comes when good content is mixed up with inappropriate content on the same website. Sites like YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, and Google Video allow users to submit their own content. Much of the content on these sites is "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy." But much of it is not. While some device level filtering software is designed to selectively allow or block content on such sites, we are primarily on our own to decide what we will view and what we will not. Elder David A. Bednar has reminded us that we have inside of us the most effectively, accurate, fail-safe filter in the world--the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He offers two specific questions we can ask ourselves as we decide what is appropriate and what is not:

  1. Does the use of various technologies and media invite or impede the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost in your life?
  2. Does the time you spend using various technologies and media enlarge or restrict your capacity to live, to love, and to serve in meaningful ways?

As we consistently ask ourselves these questions, Elder Bednar assures us that we "will receive answers, inspiration, and instruction from the Holy Ghost suited to [our] individual circumstances and needs."