I Know What You Did Last Summer
What the Snapchat hack reveals about online privacy and a culture adrift
by Daniel Weiss
“Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.”
James 3:5b-6 (CEB)
Last week we learned of yet another Internet hacking scheme in which supposedly private photos were stolen and shared online. The first round of leaked photos invaded the privacy of well-known Hollywood stars and other celebrities. This time, the innocence of average folks—including many children—was violated.
According to the Mirror Online, as many as 200,000 photos were hacked from a third party application linked to Snapchat, a phone app popular with teenagers. Snapchat allows its users to send text, photo or video messages which then are deleted mere seconds after being viewed. Because no permanent record is created, many Snapchat users, including some children, have used the service to send sexually explicit content to one another. The third-party app was engineered to capture these fleeting images and store them for later use. This was where the hackers found the photos.
The Mirror Online salaciously screams that children as young as ten will have nude photos passed around the Internet. We don’t know for sure how many young people were using this third-party app and how many of them used it to capture nude photos of others. It is reasonable, however, to think that some of the leaked photos could be considered child pornography and anyone posting them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Upon hearing this story, I thought of those passages in James that describe the dangers of an untamed tongue. Just as the tongue can set an entire life ablaze with iniquity (as the King James version puts it), so, too, does much of the technology our children are exposed to and encouraged to use. When hurtful words are spoken, they cannot be taken back. Once people take and post sexually explicit images, they cannot be erased.
It is right for the world to be angry at these hackers who maliciously set out to shame and humiliate others, but we must also assign some blame for this to a culture in which sexually abasing one’s self is seen as normal. That children now routinely do this makes our social sickness that much worse.
Dr. Judith Reisman once remarked that we shouldn’t be surprised when we see teenagers creating child pornography or sexually assaulting one another because they’re supposed to do these things. That’s a shocking statement! Yet, her reasoning is sound and very sobering. Children do these things, she argues, because they grow up by imitating the culture around them. If the adult culture has normalized pornographic sexuality, our children will naturally follow suit.
Don’t misunderstand me. This hacking scheme is a horrible tragedy for all involved. Yet, it needs to serve as a serious wake-up call to the many ways we are destroying the innocence of our children.
The truth is that our young people are routinely exposed to pornography on TV, in magazines, on video games, on the Internet, through their phones and on more apps than can be counted. One study found that 92 percent of boys and 63 percent of girls have been exposed to pornography online before they turn 18. A more recent study found that 36 percent of young Christian men aged 18-30 looked at pornography every day and half view it several times each week.
Once pornography grabs hold of someone it is very difficult to get free. Many men and women now find themselves addicted to pornography. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or not, married or single. Pornography is an equal-opportunity destroyer.
Our challenge going forward is two-fold: we must attempt to limit the impact of soul-destroying technology and we must build up a vibrant and beautiful counter-culture that can outshine the world’s offerings.
First, parents must be aware of and keep tabs on every digital device their children access both within and outside the home. I spoke with a police detective once who told her children that so long as they were minors and living in her home they should have no expectations of privacy. She investigated sex crimes and knew that the potential for danger was too great for her to be overly sensitive when it came to threats to her children.
I strongly recommend filtering and/or monitoring software for all computers and smart phones in the home. No exceptions. I would also enable parental controls on all video game devices and TV providers. It’s a horrible thought for many, but it might just make sense to get rid of pay TV altogether. Every year brings greater boundary pushing on cable programming. Are you normalizing this behavior by choosing to have it in your home?
Finally, I would require access/passwords to all social media sites your child frequents. This could be a source of considerable tension between you and your child or it could be a fantastic opportunity to spend some time talking about important things, such as your love for them and your trust in them to do what’s right. That trust is earned, not given away freely. Being involved in what your children do online gives them an opportunity to demonstrate that they are worthy of your trust.
However, these boundaries can never be seen as the total solution. I believe that there is really only one dominant sexual worldview in our culture today, and it is pornographic. This is because so few churches and so few Christian parents take time to speak about the truth and beauty of marriage and sexuality according to God’s design. For some reason (likely because this was demonstrated when we grew up), there is a great deal of embarrassment and fear attached to talking with our children about sex and relationships.
I urge you to get over your fears and start today. The Snapchat fiasco is one of a long line of abuses against our children. We don’t really have an option to be silent because the world has no problem talking with our children about sex. And, it gleefully tells destructive lies that enslave and degrade our kids.
Even so, we are armed with the truth found in Scripture. The Bible begins with a beautiful love story, the marriage of Adam and Eve, and it ends with an even greater love story, the marriage of Christ and His Church. The intimacy, commitment and care of one-man one-woman marriage is not insignificant to our faith, but essential. These earthly relationships are meant to point us to something far greater, intimacy with our Lord for all time.
We are not a hand-wringing group, but a people of hope. Everything meant for evil can be turned to good in the hands of our Lord. I pray that this hacking story will turn to good through the changes you make in your home.
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Editor’s note: Daniel Weiss is the founder and president of The Brushfires Foundation, a 501c3 ministry sparking a Christian vision of sexuality, relationships and the human person. More of his writing can be found at brushfiresfoundation.org.