Published July 31, 2008
About a year ago, Randall Brown started looking for a safe place for kids to hang out.
Online, that is.
He found out the hard way that MySpace isn’t just for finding friends, networking, or listening to cool bands. Companies have hacked into MySpace and spam-slammed it with porn ads and advertisements.
He also looked at Facebook, and although that site has had better luck filtering out porn and advertisements, there are still teenagers being teenagers, posting comments, pictures, graphics, and other applications that might be offensive.
So, Brown, 28, of Hartselle, Ala., and friend Michael Smith, 29, of Hatton, Ala., decided to come up with something different – christianspaceonline.com.
What makes it different? Christianspaceonline automatically filters out bad language and warns offensive members of improper comments, pictures, or graphics.
The two men wanted to find a safe space online not only for everyone from teenagers to adults, but also eventually for their kids. Brown has three kids, 10, 4, and 2; and Smith’s are 6, 4, and a newborn.
“That’s where the thought process came from,” Brown said. “I was getting bombarded with solicitations from different things, pornography, dating sites, that kind of thing.
“You want it to be a safe place, but companies out there hire people to look for websites to solicit. We’ve had it on ours. Here’s the good thing: If you reported things on MySpace, you never heard anything on it. If you report it on ours, it comes to us, and we can delete it and block the IP address.”
The website went public last November. After a slow start, christianspaceonline soon had 996 members – four off the goal of 1,000. At one point, after getting some exposure at concerts and other events, the site was getting 100 new members a day, and that’s quite a challenge, especially since both work during the day and lead a weekly ministry.
Still, the two men think it’s worth all the hard work.
“You can go on and look at our blogs,” Brown said. “We had one girl who said, ‘I just accepted Christ and things go on in life that make me question my decision. Because I’m a believer of Christ, why do bad things happen?’”
Brown said it was an opportunity to minister.
“I sent her an email that said, ‘Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean God isn’t on your side,’” Brown said. “We have pastors who reach out to us and are 100 percent behind it. If there’s a situation where they need to be involved, they will help.”
On the spot
Of course, there will always be those who push the boundaries of even a Christian site.
“Yeah, we have people who test our language filters,” Brown said. “If you put a curse word on the comments, unless they manipulate the word, we can block it. The good thing about our site is that when it’s reported, we’re right on the spot and can go in and delete the comment. We can do the same thing with pictures.”
Brown said if a guy puts up a picture of himself at the beach with no shirt, it’s pulled. If a girl puts up one in a bathing suit, it’s pulled. He recalls a mother who was bothered when her 13-year-old son was contacted by a 19-year-old man from Tennessee. The mother couldn’t cite anything offensive, but was uncomfortable, so Brown contacted the 19-year-old and suggested he talk to people more his age.
“We’re never going to be 100 percent perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives,” Brown said. “There’s no guaranteed safety at church or school. We try to keep it as clean as possible.”
Chris Welch writes for The Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala.
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