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>>   Letters from the Universal House of Justice
Abstract:
Guidance for Counsellors regarding participation in and monitoring of bulletin boards, chat rooms, and email lists.
Notes:
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

by / on behalf of International Teaching Centre

1995-02-24
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.
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 matter.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 Board members.

  6. 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.

  7. 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
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