A pastoral letter called "Internet Safety" marks World Communications Sunday, celebrated in Australia this Sunday. And the letter has a unique element -- a video introduction featuring Bishop Peter Ingham on YouTube.
Bishop Ingham, the Australian bishops conference's delegate for media issues, said the video is a way to get the message out.
"That's where we have to be, if we're going to be talking to people, especially to young people about navigating the Net safely," he said. "If only a few people see this video message and think over the points raised, it will be most worthwhile."
The letter is directed primarily to parents, grandparents and teachers, and includes an initial explanation of what the Internet is. The YouTube video talks directly to young people about safety on the Net.
The letter warns parents about the dangers of the internet, including "stranger danger," a term that refers to the threat of children thinking that they are talking to a friend or peer and giving personal information to would-be aggressors.
The letter also mentions the problems of "cyber-bullying," the same sort of problem kids of all generations have faced, though now with a virtual, rather than physical dimension.
The Australian bishops also stressed the dangers of Internet pornography.
"Figures provided by Nielsen/NetRatings NetView show 2.7 million Australians visited an 'adult' Web site in March of 2007 -- this figure counts repeat visitors to adult Web sites only once; 4.3 million visited in the first quarter of that year," the letter notes. "More than 35% of all Internet users in the quarter ending March visited an adult Web site at least once."
The danger of pornography affects both youth and adults, the letter lamented.
"A recent online survey of teenage girls run by an Australian teen magazine, found that seven out of 10 of those surveyed had accessed pornography sites by accident and 21% on purpose," the bishops reported.
Thus, the prelates affirmed, despite the many positive uses of the Internet, the avalanche of information means that users must be discerning.
"Parents, educators, Church leaders, psychologists and others are increasingly raising concerns about the dangers of the Internet, particularly for young people, but for older people as well," the bishops wrote.
"A generational and technological divide can often mean that parents feel out of their depth when trying to monitor their children's Internet use," the letter acknowledged. "This pastoral letter seeks to address these issues through the context of faith.
"In identifying some of the dangers of the Internet, and bringing some of the wisdom of our faith tradition to bear upon them, it is our hope that we can all be alert to those aspects of the Internet which can be a danger to our safety, to our human dignity, and to our relationships with each other and with God."
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On the Net:
Bishop Ingham's YouTube video: www.youtube.com/ACBCcomms
Pastoral letter "Internet Safety": www.acbc.catholic.org.au/documents/200804271910.pdf