Being Street-wise on the Internet
As we all know, the Internet is a cesspool of shmutz. And yet, in the modern era, it's almost impossible to live without it. So, like walking on the streets, where you need to know which are the safe places to go and which are not, and what behavior is safe and what is not, you need to be "street smart" about using the Internet. As a computer professional, I would like to offer a couple of tips to people who want to use the Internet safely.
- In my professional opinion, having filtered Internet is like having bumpers on your car. Bumpers are good to prevent major damage in the event of a loss of concentration while parking or some low-speed incidents, but won't make a shred of difference in a high speed collision R"L. Similarly, filtered Internet might prevent accidental exposure in a small number of cases, but for the most part, I place very little trust in these filters to keep me safe. Whatever their claims, I do not believe they have the technology to identify inappropriate images, much less videos. I'm not saying you shouldn't bother with filtered Internet; it might prevent you of your kids from accidentally being exposed. But don't rely on it, and certainly don't allow your kids free rein on the Internet in the mistaken belief that filtered Internet will keep them safe. If someone is actively looking for shmutz, they will find it, unless you have set up such a draconian whitelist that you can't do anything useful.
- Particularly beware of YouTube. YouTube is like the Etz HaDa'as Tov v'Ra - on the one hand it has so many amazing, inspiring, useful and educational videos, but on the other, it is absolutely chock-full of the worst shmutz imaginable. And the linked videos down the side often have nothing to do with the video you are currently watching. It's quite possible to surf from the most sublime spiritual video to the foulest tum'ah within two clicks. Sometimes one. I'd love to say everyone should blacklist YouTube, but this is just not practical; from a professional perspective I often need to watch training videos or other useful resources on YouTube. All I can say is, when you have to go to YouTube - beware. Keep your defenses up and use full-screen mode if you want to avoid seeing the "related video" links.
- Be aware of what links you're clicking on. I recently did a Google search for something innocuous. One of the links (to someone's blog) looked like it had the answer to my question. I clicked it and waited for the blog to appear. But then something unexpected happened. The site suddenly redirected to another weird looking address that wasn't what was listed in the Google search results, containing arbitrary characters like "sdf2nf8zxx.ru." "Uh-oh," I thought. "This cannot be good." Immediately I moved my mouse over the "X" on the browser tab, and as I got there, the images started loading. I hit the "close" button almost before the shmutz had hit my retinas. Almost. I got burned, but not nearly as badly as I would have if I hadn't known about things like domain hijacking and seen the signs coming. (To explain to those who don't know, what clearly happened here is that some hacker managed to get into the site I was trying to reach - either by changing their DNS records or altering the page code - and redirected all traffic to their porn site.) And, to drive home my first point above, all this happened on my office network, which has a very highly regarded and professional company providing their filtered internet. Feh.
- Be honest with yourself. All the protection in the world will not save you from shmutz on the Internet unless you are personally committed to keeping yourself clean. If you fear you cannot control your taavos, then keep hilchos yichud as if the Internet were a woman.
Wishing you all bracha and chizuk!