Surf Your Values (Part 2) – What Are Your Cyberspace Values?

In our last post we saw that the Internet is changing the way people interact, communicate, shop, conduct research, and find entertainment. The whole world lies at our fingertips. But unfortunately we often don’t apply our standard of “right and wrong” to our online lives. What we would never want to do in “real” life, we are more willing to do online.

What does it mean to use the Internet with integrity?

Integrity means “completeness” or being “undivided.” When we have integrity it means we are firmly adhering to the same code of conduct everywhere we go. Some have defined integrity as “Who we are when no one else is looking.”

Integrity applies to our lives in cyberspace because most of us surf the Web alone, can see whatever we want, go wherever we want, and be whoever we portray ourselves to be. Having integrity means we have consistent behaviors online and offline.

To help us understand this we will be highlighting Daniel Lohrmann’s “Seven Habits of Online Integrity,” from his book, Virtual Integrity.

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Habit #1: Refresh Your Values in Cyberspace

Online integrity starts by reexamining our offline or “real” lives. Often there is a disconnect between what we “ought” to do online vs. offline. In my offline life, I say and do this, but online I say and do another. The first step to surfing our values is remembering what our values are and realizing that they should apply to the Internet as well.

So what are your offline values? What would you label a “good” character quality? Do they include biblical qualities such as compassion, humility, honesty, faithfulness in marriage, and generosity? If you don’t know what your values are or what they should be, begin the process of exploration. Read the 10 commandments (Exodus 20) and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Get together with the leaders, elders, or pastors of your church to gain a better understanding of what our values need to be.

Next, as you take a long look at those values, begin seeing how your online behaviors either do or do not match up.

  • Is one of your values “Thou shalt not steal”? Do you disregard this by downloading material which is protected by copyright laws?
  • Do you value sexual purity or fidelity in marriage? Then why do you regularly look for pornographic images on the Internet? Why do you engage in sexual cyber-chat on IM?
  • Is it truly “better to give than to receive”? Then why do your online habits include compulsive shopping or gambling?
  • Do you believe that truthfulness is a virtue? Then why do you portray yourself as someone you are not in your online profile?

If you notice a disconnect between your online and offline lives, get together with trusted Christian friends and mentors and confess this as a problem. Reestablish a list of values and behaviors for your online life.

Lohrmann suggests,

“I urge you to condense the list to the top two or three behaviors that you want to encourage in your life, and a few (no more than five) behaviors you want to eliminate or reduce. Try to be specific about actions, but not so specific that you need a new list for every website you visit.”

NOTE TO PARENTS: Often the reason software and Internet rules do not work in the home is because this first habit is skipped. Kids need to be instructed about values, buy into them, and own these values for themselves. Before policing the Internet, parents need to model and teach offline values in the home, showing how they apply to online life.

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Habit #2: Pledge Personal Online Integrity

“An initial commitment to integrity is essential to every other step in the process. . . . Name it what you like: cyber values, surfing resolution, family online contract, opting in to integrity, or a virtual commitment. This is your personal Internet mission statement that articulates your desire to align your online life with the values you profess” (Daniel Lohrmann).

Creating a pledge for Internet use is not something just for protecting children: it is something every adult ought to do. Far too often our discussions of Internet responsibility boil down to how we are going to guard young eyes and minds, which is commendable. However, adult responsibility on the Internet is far too often an overlooked idea. In reality, one of the best ways to guard children from Internet pitfalls is by setting a standard for them by the way WE live as adults.

This personal pledge doesn’t need to be complicated or overly detailed. Lohrmann suggests using the words of King David, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3). In other words, he writes, “I won’t cheapen myself or waste my time accessing material that I know is evil and can cause a problem that would violate my integrity. I won’t intentionally surf the Internet to access content that I know is wrong.” Draw the line in the sand today and make this pledge to yourself.

NOTE TO PARENTS: Children often will need a more detailed pledge. As we have many discussions about online values with our children, it may be a good idea to write up an Internet pledge for them to see and agree upon. For help with writing good age-appropriate pledges, my favorite place to go is NetSmartz.org. Also check out SafeFamilies.org, SafeKids.com, or ProtectKids.com.

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Habit #3: Seek Trusted Accountability

Once we’ve committed to online integrity, it only makes sense that we set up some system of accountability. Accountability means that we share the details of our pledge with trusted friends or family members, giving them permission to ask you to give an account of your commitment.

Some people have seen firsthand the value of accountability—whether it be involving employee performance, financial accountability on Wall Street, governmental accountability to its citizens, or personal accountability for weight loss. On the other hand, in our increasingly individualistic culture, accountability can be seen as highly intrusive.

If the concept of accountability seems uncomfortable, revisit your desire to surf the Web with integrity and humbly admit you need others to continually raise the bar for you. It is simply human nature to lower our standards and make exceptions. Trusted friends who love us and want the best for us won’t let us off the hook. They will continually bring us back to our commitment again and again.

Find people you can trust and establish an accountability group. This may be between you and your spouse. It may be between you and a friend with whom you drink coffee once a week. It may be a group of men or women from your church that have expressed a similar desire to online integrity. Whatever you do, involve someone else in the process who will show you tough love and always challenge you to the standards you have set.

Read Part 3 of this series . . .