Guidance for Counsellors regarding participation in and monitoring of bulletin boards, chat rooms, and email lists.
Note that, when this document was written, the World Wide Web was still brand-new — the first commercial browser, Netscape, was barely 3 months old
. See more of this history, including a link to this very document (in References), in Bahá'í Negotiation with the Internet
Internet Forums, Development and Monitoring of
Continental Board of Counsellors in the Americas
Dearly loved Co-workers,
We received your email dated 1 November 1994 expressing some concerns about the development and monitoring of international electronic "bulletin boards" and electronic forums, and subsequently sought guidance on this matter
from the Universal House of Justice.
The House of Justice understands and appreciates that questions
surrounding the use of computer-operated electronic systems such as bulletin
boards, libraries, electronic forums, interactive networks, and the like, will
no doubt increase as computer technology becomes widespread. The House of
Justice has expressed the belief that electronic communication systems present
a valuable technology for the development of the Faith worldwide. It will take
wisdom on the part of the institutions of the Faith to utilize the positive
aspects of the technology for the benefit of the Faith, while at the same time
protecting the Faith from its ill-advised or malicious use.
The Supreme Body has already taken one major step to ensure that Bahá'ís
and non-Bahá'ís alike have a source for authentic literature of the Faith by
providing the Bahá'í Writings on an FTP server at the World Centre. Many texts
already have been downloaded hundreds of times and have been entered into
several electronic libraries where they are more likely to be seen by computer
users than via our FTP server. This step has far-reaching consequences in
protecting the Faith since it becomes possible for the Sacred Text to be
readily available to those using computer technology as a source of authentic
Bahá'í literature to be checked against uninformed or misleading comments about
the Faith that might occur on electronic forums.
As for your specific concerns, the House of Justice has supplied the
following guidance in the order in which your questions were submitted.
- Normally Bahá'í institutions need not monitor discussions on the
electronic bulletin boards any more than they would monitor any other
activities of individual Bahá'ís and Bahá'í communities. As Bahá'ís become
aware of problems that become disruptive, they should inform the National
Spiritual Assembly of their concerns.
- Individual believers have been entering Bahá'í writings into their
databases for some time and sharing them with others. The presence of
authorized Text available at the Bahá'í World Centre FTP server will tend
to make individual entries such as these obsolete. This is apt to be a
self-correcting process the more computer users are aware that the
Sacred Text is available electronically.
- It may create confusion in the minds of some believers if the National
Spiritual Assemblies have different policies for their national communities
on certain matters raised on electronic forums. It has noted, however,
that there are many knowledgeable Bahá'ís involved with the discussion
groups who help provide accurate information about the Faith as well as
thoughtful ideas. The users can always be advised to contact their National Spiritual Assembly or Auxiliary Board member in in doubt about a
- Participation by enemies of the Faith or members of Covenant-breaker groups
may, indeed, occur in the dialogue on electronic forums. It is not
advisable for the institutions of the Faith or its individual members to
become directly involved in such discussion. It is neither wise nor
possible to interfere with postings on public forums, but if it is observed
that such activity is taking place on Bahá'í-only forums National Assemblies should be alerted so that they may provide appropriate advice to
the administrator of the forum. The greatest protection to the Faith will
not be through intervention on either open or closed electronic forums, but
through ongoing deepening of the Bahá'í community in the Covenant and the
history and Teachings of the Faith.
- The House of Justice prefers that individuals with questions turn first
to their National Spiritual Assembly rather than to the Bahá'í World
Centre. They are, of course, free to contact the Counsellors and Auxiliary
- Regarding a set of general guidelines for Bahá'í users of electronic
media, the House of Justice prefers to leave this in the hands of National
Spiritual Assemblies who may provide guidance to the operators or
administrators of bulletin boards and mailing lists. The various forums
themselves provide guidance for their use as well as helpful information
through reports called "FAQs" (Frequently Asked Questions). These are more
fully discussed in the attached material.
- The House of Justice agrees that it may be wise to formally offer various
Bahá'í Writings and papers from the Bahá'í International Community to
on-line libraries, and that this could be accomplished by the National
Assemblies in countries where the on-line services originate. Certain
documents may be appropriate for "Bahá'í only" forums, as is the case at
present of the document "Promoting Entry by Troops". The Counsellors
themselves are welcome to recommend this approach, where appropriate, to
the National Assemblies they serve.
In addition to the attachments mentioned above, the House of Justice has
also provided copies of its related correspondence with two National Assemblies
and one individual believer. These materials may prove helpful to the
Counsellors in their discussions with National Assemblies as the items cover a number of questions that may come up from time to time.
We have been asked to convey the appreciation of the House of Justice for
your thoughtful consultation on this subject. The Supreme Body would welcome
the Counsellors including in their reports to us comments on the development of
electronic media on the part of the National Spiritual Assemblies in the
countries to which they are assigned.
With loving Bahá'í greetings
The International Teaching Centre