Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Parents Get Ready, Nudity Is Already on Instgram, And Is Headed For Facebook.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the danger that Instagram has become in regard to fueling porn addiction in teenagers.  Sadly, that danger looks like it is about to expand to Facebook, as well.  It really should not be a surprise, as Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012.

While there have been "content policies" in place at both social media sites (which used to be policed very well), the enforcement of these policies has lapsed dramatically on Instagram (see original blog post below).  Facebook recently said that they are in the process of reviewing their policies on nudity, etc. on their site, and are looking to make changes to better fit the cultures in the world that do not oppose nudity, etc. on social media.

Here's the gaping hole of a problem...  they have not said a THING about how they are planning to protect children from having these images pop up in their news feed.  Instagram has zero ability to control what is seen, either.  Full nudity often comes up in the regular search/explore page, with no warning.

Why post this?  We are in a war for our children.  If we do not stand up against this type of nonsense, who will fight for the innocence of our kids?  The porn industry obviously does not care... they are all about making money, no matter what kind of damage their work is doing to our culture.  The only way to stop this is for each of us to let Facebook know that you find this unacceptable.

***Below is my original Blog Post on Instagram, for the sake of context***

Okay, before you write off this notion about Instagram and other social media... please bear with me. As a Youth Pastor, and father of tween and teenage daughters, this is a massively important subject that you really need to take a minute and look at.  Let me start with the facts...

Porn is a hot topic... especially among the parents of teenagers.  It is also a hot topic, and an absolute addiction to millions of young students around the world.  Don't believe me?  Depending on which source you listen to, the porn industry makes between 70 - 100 Billion dollars each year.  Yup... I said BILLION.  It is an industry that has infiltrated the hearts and minds of homes throughout the world.  Pirn causes broken relationships, broken homes, and unrealistic expectations of what a healthy (read Biblical) sexual relationship should really look like.  Not to mention the absolute objectification of women's bodies.  It is a slow, creeping evil that everyone knows is a problem, but few want to talk about... especially in church circles.

Instagram has also become a world-wide phenomena...  In 2013, Instagram had just under 100 million active users.  In June 2016, Instagram has grown to more than 500 million active users!  (statia.com)  Instagram is by far the most popular form of social media among teenagers, and is a constant topic of conversation among the teens I work with worldwide.  Started off as a great way to simply share pictures of your day, dog, etc.  However, it has morphed into a much larger social hot-spot since Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, as is show by its explosive growth since then.

So, what's the big deal?  It's only some photos, right?  Well yes... and NO.  As a parent, do you have an Instagram account?  Have you kept up with its newer features?  If not, please take a few minutes to investigate it, even if that means picking up the phone of your child and opening the app!  (I know, I can feel the massive eye-rolls coming from them... but you'll be glad you did)  First thing, hit the home icon and scroll through the pictures of the people your son/daughter "follows."  You might be a bit surprised at some of the people, and political movements that they have regular exposure to.  We have a standing rule at our house that our girls can only "follow" people (as well as letting others follow them) that they actually know.  Anyone else has to get our approval.  Sound archaic?  Well, once you hit the next step, you probably will not think so.

Next, tap the "explore/search" icon... which currently a magnifying glass.  This used to be an easy way to type in a name and find friends and check out their photos.  Now, it has become an advertising board, with thousands of photos designed to get people to look at and follow what has come to be known as the "Stars of Instagram."  Continue to scroll through the endless stream of photos and see what you happen to notice.  Sure, there's the normal teen selfie pics, vacation photos, and quotes...  but there are also a LOT of pictures of nearly nude men and women in various types of poses.  Not only photos, but also short videos that are meant to get you to click on the photo and look at it up close.  This is where the problem truly begins...

Usually, in the caption of the photo is a way to see "other photos" that are not allowed on Instagram.  Supposedly, Instagram does not allow nudity, or sexual acts to be depicted in photos.  However, it is pretty obvious that they are not doing a great job of policing the content.  How do I know this?  I have personally reported a few photos (from people that I actually know) to the powers that be at Instagram, and am usually told by them that the suggestive photos (often of young people) are not "over the line."  They are simply not able to keep up with the sheer volume of photos being uploaded every day.

Advertisers (including porn companies) have seen the loophole in things like Instagram and Snapchat, and are paying people to feature their products in their selfies and videos.  The more likes and followers that a person gets, the more they can get paid.  There are TONS of young men & women who make their entire living off of Instagram.  Nothing wrong with making a living, but when that is coupled with very sexualized ads, you have an entry-level drug called "soft-core porn."

What do I mean by "soft-core porn"?  Well, let me give you some examples.  A young man or women might not be brave enough to buy porn from a store or pay for downloads from the web.  However, they will probably have no problem with looking at "forbidden" images if they think that they will not get caught.  Victoria's Secret or JC Penny catalogs ring a bell for some of you?  Soft-core porn is just an entry level area that somehow feels "safe" and less "dirty" than the real thing.  This illusion quickly fades...  Like anything new and exciting, it can become rather mundane, and the search for something new to bring the thrill and danger of doing something wrong can very easily lead people into the seedy and harmful world of full-on pornography.

In my years of ministry, I have seen lives torn apart, and marriages ruined over addictions to elicit images and videos.  It is an addiction that is VERY hard to break.  The sad thing is that it also saps our spiritual strength and influence with those around us... even if they do not know about one's addictions.  Only through the power of God can these battles be won.

What are we to do, as parents?  It may take some very bold steps to help guard the hearts, eyes, and minds of our kids.  You may not be very popular for whatever decision you make, but our kids are worth it!  Please do not turn a blind eye to this subject...  check it out for yourself, but just be careful at how far you look.  None of us are immune to sin... certainly something that I must admit to myself every single day!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Musings of a Former Apple Guy...

Okay, so if you have known me for any length of time, you know that I have been a big fan of Apple's products and software for many years.  In fact, our family was completely into their eco-system with our phones, computers, Apple TV, watches, and even our wireless router.  For years, Apple has stood above the rest of the companies out there because while the competition's products encountered many issues, Apple's products just worked...  Five years ago, this was the gospel truth. Apple OSX was far and away better than Windows, iOS worked much better than Android, Windows, or Blackberry phone software, and their software such as Pages, Numbers, etc. worked well and yielded stellar results.

Sadly, this is not five years ago.  While the rest of the tech world has made huge improvements in their hardware and software, Apple seems content to putter along at their own pace.  Sure, their sales numbers have been good, but even that is beginning to decline in nearly every sector except in computer sales.  Companies like Google, and even Microsoft have more than caught up with Apple in their software development, and in many ways have overtaken Apple.  Case in point, Apple's latest mobile release (iOS10) seems like a beta-version of software that was rushed to market without the normal testing we have come to expect from Apple.  This actually started to occur with iOS7, with major glitches included in the download that took many further Apple updates to correct.  Instead  of leading with new, usable features, Apple seems to be merely re-packaging features found on other mobile platforms and calling them "revolutionary."  I was not a big fan of Steve Jobs, but I have a feeling that he would be pretty upset with the direction that his company has taken since his death.

I mentioned declining sales earlier, and that really does speak to some of the problems at Apple, IMO.  Why the decline in sales?  Well, honestly I think that it is Apple's absolutely dogged approach to forcing users to use THEIR software, THEIR hardware, and now THEIR accessories.  Don't like the normal messaging app from Apple?  Well, you can use other apps, but none of them have native support.  Sure, there are work-arounds, but why is that necessary?  Don't like iTunes?  Ha ha...  don't even think of trying to use something else on your iPhone... you will not get far.  In fact, up until iOS10, you could not even delete Apple's stock apps from your phone.  You still cannot delete them all.  iMessage is a great idea, unless the people you are trying to message do not use iMessage.  Sure, it will work through your iPhone, but what if you do not have an iPhone?  Again, work-arounds are there, but it should not be that difficult.

Last year, Apple introduced Apple Music.  In doing so, they made a serious push for users to begin using their monthly paid service.  Every time you opened iTunes on your computer or your phone, there it was... front and center.  Getting to your own music became another layer of junk you had to go through.  This year, they decided to do away with the headphone jack on their latest phone.  Now that may not seem like that big of a deal to some, but many people (like myself) own one or more sets of really good wired headphones.  This new phone requires you to keep up with and use an adaptor to use a simple set of headphones.  Is it any coincidence that Apple happens to own Beats Audio?  Don't want to pop for a set of wireless Beats?  Well, how about Apple's $160 wireless ear pods...  Money, money, money...

I also own an iPad Air 2, which is not even 2 years old.  I have never encountered a problem with it until I updated it to iOS10.  Glitches, freezes, and app failures are the new normal there.  I often teach from my iPad.  It is not fun when your notes get frozen and you have to restart the app on the fly.  I'm sure Apple would be happy to help me with the purchase of a new iPad, but that's not happening.

Lastly, the Apple Watch.  It was a cool item at first, but the novelty wore off within a few months.
Really did not do much other than show messages.  Biggest problem was just having to charge one more thing every day.  Going out of town required taking multiple chargers, as Apple refuses to use the micro-USB port that the rest of the industry uses... just one more way that they try to keep you spending money in their camp.

In the past few months, I've replaced my Apple router with a better alternative from another company, sold my Apple Watch, and sold my iPhone 6s Plus.  I recently purchased an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge), and have been very happy with it.  I was surprised at how user friendly the newest version of Android (dubbed Marshmallow) is.  So many options for customization, and not just in the look of the software, but actually being able to choose which apps work best for you, and delete the ones that do not.  I still have my Mac computers, and will not be replacing them anytime soon.  So far, OSX has been pretty good about keeping things stable and working.

I am not an Apple hater...  But I'm also not what I would call an Apple "enthusiast."  Gone are the days of buying an Apple product because I was confident that it would work better than the competing products on the market.  Those days are gone... but hey, variety and competition is a good thing for the market, right?  :)