Smartphone users struggle to filter explicit content

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Smartphones provide easy opportunities to view explicit content, even on social media sites that target younger audiences, like Snapchat and Instagram.

How to best filter this explicit content is a challenge students and others in the BYU community face every day.

“I feel that smartphones are a challenge because they are so easily accessible,” BYU student Dylan Barney said. “There are so many things to do on a smartphone, and it is with people all of the time. The challenge that presents is that, in a way, people get addicted to using their phones.”

Barney said it takes self-control to resist the urge to take out his phone when he’s bored in class, which prevents him from learning all he can, or from socializing with the people around him. He also said he’s seen students who struggle with viewing inappropriate media because of smartphones.

“A unique problem smartphones present is how private they are. A person can do almost anything on their phone without anyone else knowing, and they can do that with relative ease,” Barney said. “This presents an especially big problem to those who are addicted to pornography because it gives them incredible private ease of access.”

People can easily be exposed to explicit content due to the accessibility of smartphones. (Maddi Dayton illustration)

Barney said he hasn’t found a perfect blocker or content filter for smartphones, but his biggest advice would be to simply disconnect a little. He said one way he’s been able to disconnect from his smartphone and better connect to people around him is to delete certain social media accounts.

Louie DiCristofano, former VP of development and engineering at Content Watch, the makers of filtering software Net Nanny, said creating effective filtering software for smartphones has been much more difficult than it was for computers.

One reason for this, according to DiCristofano, is that on a computer, people typically consume content through an online browser, whereas on a smartphone, they typically consume content through applications.

DiCristofano said this is a challenge for filtering because most smartphone applications are “sandboxed,” meaning they don’t allow other applications to interfere with them.

DiCristofano said mobile operating system companies are slowly becoming more aware of the problems with smartphone technology, and he believes better filtering technology will come out very soon.

“Probably sometime this year, you’ll see the first application that will be able to filter content within applications,” DiCristofano said.

DiCristofano also said future technology will not only better filter content, but will also allow for better overall management of smartphone usage, such as controlling what features or applications can be used at certain times of the day.

BYU professor and LDS bishop Jay Buckley said he has witnessed the abuse of smartphone apps such as Tinder and Snapchat in local YSA wards. He shared a few tips he usually offers to students who counsel with him.

“Turn off your phone at 10 p.m. Charge it in your drawer or in another room. Use (phones) in public places and high-traffic areas,” Buckley said.

Buckley emphasized the importance of interacting with actual people rather than through electronics. He also said despite the negative content available on smartphones, there are still some positive apps, such as the Gospel Library app, that can be a source of light and goodness.

Mother of six Julie Bleak said the first step to avoid viewing explicit content on smartphones is to have open and honest relationships with certain people around you so you can turn to someone if needed. Bleak said the second step is to use the built-in protections and filters available on the phones themselves.

“iPhones have a lot of natural filtering, things that you can set up in your settings,” Bleak said. 

Bleak said her family has an open-phone policy, which means any member of the family can access any other family member’s phone at any time. She said this policy offers accountability, whereas privacy doesn’t. 

“Anything to help the phones be less secretive and more shared helps us to be protected,” Bleak said. 

Fight the New Drug, an organization dedicated to spreading awareness of the potential harms of pornography, recently spoke on their Facebook page about their new smartphone application called the Fighter App. According to the organization’s Facebook posts, the Fighter App has over 60,000 users and helps people track their goals to avoid pornography.

A few other apps that help filter inappropriate content are Covenant Eyes and IM Lock, which allow for browser filtering on smartphones. Covenant Eyes is available on both the Apple Store for iPhones and Google Play for Android, whereas IM Lock is only available on Google Play.

To determine whether a smartphone is being used appropriately, Bleak asks the question, “Is the phone being used in a way to enrich their lives?”

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