Cruise through cyberspace cautiously.
A recent experience on the Internet highway reminded me of a similar one on the Hollywood highway. Several years ago we rented what we thought was a tame PG adventure film. We viewed it as a family. It was an adventure all right. For the first 30 seconds or so the movie was fine. And then people started speaking. In four-letter words. Apparently we hadn't read the review, or the profanity wasn't mentioned. Regardless, it took us by surprise.That's what happened on the Internet in what by all appearances should have been a cookies-and-milk G-rated endeavor. That's what you're going to get when the event features Steve Young, right? (Young obviously had no control over what happened.)
Young was featured in a live America Online chat a few days before the San Francisco-Denver game. A sister-in-law alerted us to the program. At 7 o'clock you log on, go to the proper forum and then see 49ers quarterback Young (in other weeks some other NFL star) answer questions on screen - the words are typed in as he's responding.
It's intriguing. The first question, "Do you think Jerry Rice will be able to come back against Denver, and if he does, how do you think he will do?" was soon followed by Young's answer, something, like, "Well, if anyone can come back from an injury like that it's Jerry. Jerry has such a good work ethic blah, blah . . ."
Like the PG movie, for about a minute or so it was fine and then it changed considerably as a giant trash can of verbal garbage was dumped on this particular portion of the Internet road.
In the middle of Young's response to a legitimate question (the second one was something like, "Which of the coaches you've played for has helped you the most?" Young's predictable answer: "All have had an impact on the way I play blah, blah . . .") the screen became flooded with bizarre and offensive questions and comments.
One questioner wanted to know what Young's relationship was with the various 49er cheerleaders and not in G-rated terms. Another, a Green Bay fan, didn't ask a question but just stated there was no way the 'Niners were getting to the Super Bowl because Green Bay would clobber them in the playoffs. This in turn prompted an angry response from a loyal 49er fan and the two began profane exchanges on screen while Young was still answering the question about the coaches.
When it became apparent the plethora of sophomoric gibberish was not going to cease, it also became apparent it was pointless to try following Young's responses. The session had to be terminated (a week later a transcript was available at the site without all the garbage).
There may have been ways to block the offensive material but being one who cruises the Internet on a bicycle with training wheels and not a sports car, I was unaware of them. Many children probably aren't all that sophisticated either. Caution needs to be the byword.
It's one thing to go looking for the garbage dumps in cyberspace. It's another to have them dumped unexpectedly on your head.
Which is why efforts like those of Joshua Elledge, a senior studying family science at BYU, are needed.
Elledge has designed a system that blocks offensive words and kicks foul-mouthed users out of chat rooms. His site is (http://www.ychat.com), and it would have been nice to have had his system in operation for what turned out to be an R-rated Steve Young interview.
There are plenty of good, informative areas on the Internet, such as the Deseret News site (http://www.desnews.com) that are free of vulgar material. The biggest problem area seems to be with the chat rooms. These are the areas where children can be particularly put at risk and, as I found out, where adults can also be verbally assaulted.