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Moving Past the Placebo: Using Reports to Develop Deeper Accountability Relationships

Last Updated: November 3, 2020

Lisa Eldred

Lisa Eldred is the Educational Content Strategist at Covenant Eyes, and has 10 years of experience in researching and writing about porn addiction and recovery. She has authored numerous blog posts and ebooks, including More Than Single, Hobbies and Habits, and New Fruit, which was co-authored with Crystal Renaud Day. Her writing about faith and fandoms can be found at Love Thy Nerd.

When should you fire your Accountability Partner?

Tim, a reader of the Covenant Eyes blog, raised this question shortly after he added an additional Accountability Partner. His original Partners were failing him in three ways: (1) they did not respond to each report in a timely manner, (2) with specifics, (3) or in regards to known trouble areas for him.

In short, Tim had a surface-level, “placebo” accountability—he had people who received his reports—but he wanted to go deeper.

Placebo Accountability

Many users of Covenant Eyes sign up for the placebo effect. They simply want to know that their activity can be checked, even if they never talk about their Accountability Report. In a survey on the Covenant Eyes blog, 53% of readers said, “I rarely or never have conversations with my Accountability Partner(s) about my Accountability Report. I just like knowing I’m being watched.” Only 20% said, “I have regular conversations with my Accountability Partner(s), and we often talk about my Accountability Report, even when the report looks good.”

According to Covenant Eyes President Ron DeHaas, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He said, “The most significant component of accountability is a user’s knowledge that he or she is being held accountable.” And it works. DeHaas explained that, on average, 13% of all search engine requests are for erotic material. But for users of Covenant Eyes, on the other hand, it drops to less than 0.1%. The primary reason, he said, is that they know they’re being held accountable.

Why not stop there, then? Why do users like Tim desire a deeper relationship?

A Report Built for Conversation

When DeHaas founded Covenant Eyes, his original desire was to know what sites his sons were visiting online. However, simple monitoring, or legalistic blocking or filtering weren’t his goal. He said, “I heard and believed that the most effective way of training in righteousness is accountability to another person.” This meant creating reports to provide a complete picture of which sites were visited and, in particular, which sites were questionable.

Originally, these reports were simple lists of links, with the option of going to a more comprehensive report (now known as the Detailed Browsing Log) for more detail. As new needs arose, the reports evolved. DeHaas listed the Site Report module as one example. “We’d ask parents, ‘What are the top 10 sites your kids visit on the Internet?’ They wouldn’t know the answer,” he explained. “This answers that question.”

Another major shift away from the simple list to conversation starters was the 2010 shift from numerical scores to an age-based rating system for sites visited. Alaina Kraus, a User Experience Practitioner who worked on this switch, explained, “We decided to go the age-based ratings route because people already had a familiarity with ratings from TV or video games.”

Further, it was important that Accountability Partners could adjust which ratings appear on the reports they receive. DeHaas said, “The Accountability Partner of a college student doesn’t want to see the report at a setting meant for a 6-year-old—or for a porn addict.”

Using Reports to Move Past the Placebo

So then, if the reports have been designed to help Accountability Partners get a clear picture of Internet activity, how can a user like Tim and his Accountability Partners use them to dig deeper?

For those who have relied on the placebo effect, DeHaas recommends a simple start: setting a weekly time on the calendar to at least mention that the Partner looked at the report. He said, “It lets the users know that they’re keeping them accountable.” As part of this conversation, he suggests picking and asking about one or two sites from the report.

From there, he recommends that the user and the partner sit down once or twice a month to go over the report in detail. “It takes some experience with looking at a person’s usage to understand what’s good and bad. It’s a very personal matter.” By looking in greater detail, Accountability Partners will be able to tell what’s a gray area for a user. “Take the number of times a person visits Facebook,” said DeHaas. “For some people, that could really be an issue.”

These in-depth conversations will also help users and their Accountability Partners determine the appropriate report settings. Kraus said, “Generally, we recommend that an adult is going to be okay with reports at the Mature setting,” meaning that it will only show sites rated Mature or Highly Mature. However, people sometimes prefer more detail. This can best be determined in conversation, she explained.

These conversations can also be used to set and refine the user’s goal for Accountability. In his comment on the blog, Tim mentioned that his current partners were not calling him out for visiting sites that were known problem areas.

For example, a person may visit an online dating site or a tabloid site before visiting a porn site that same day or even days later. Together, the user and the Accountability Partner can determine both the websites that trigger or lead to inappropriate Internet use as well as a person’s underlying motives, such as loneliness or frustration.

These conversations can help the user become more proactive. As she has spoken with customers, Kraus has found that many users of accountability will contact their partners as soon as they visit a website, whether it’s a true problem site or simply something that looks bad but is innocent. “A lot of people say, ‘I call my Accountability Partner about this even before they receive the report,'” she said.

“Accountability can be very simple,” DeHaas said, especially at the start of an Accountability relationship. “As time goes on, you use the reports to develop a deeper and deeper relationship, beyond the obvious.”