Handbook Helps Bloggers Circumvent Censorship

A Paris-based media watchdog has set its sights on helping anonymous bloggers avoid Internet censors in countries like Iran and China.

Reporters Without Borders, an organization better known for tracking the abuse and murder of journalists, has turned its attention to online protesters with its “Handbook for Blogger and Cyber-Dissedents.”

The French government is providing partial funding for the project which includes technical advice on how to remain anonymous online. The handbook explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, how to get free search engine publicity, and how to establish a bolg’s credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.

“Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution,” Julien Pain, head of the watchdog’s Internet Freedom desk, wrote in his introduction. “Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.”

Common Sense Blogging

Reporters Without Borders figures bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure, the organization said. These bloggers provide independent news at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.

The 87-page handbook seeks to inspire a new level of blogging. Advice includes how to use pseudonyms and anonymous proxies that can be used to replace traceable home computer addresses.

Other tips include changing cyber cafes and sending cryptographically signed messages via specially formatted e-mail. The guide reveals circumvention technologies that can break through government filters with one caveat: Bloggers should weigh the penalty for getting caught before using them.

“With a bit of common sense, perseverance and especially by picking the right tools, any blogger should be able to overcome censorship,” writes Pain.

A New Dimension

Many Internet experts helped produce the manual, including U.S. journalist Dan Gillmor, Canadian specialist in Internet censorship Nart Villeneuve, U.S. blogger Jay Rosen and other bloggers from all over the world. The Handbook is available via a download at www.rsf.org.

Blog expert B.L. Ochman, author of “What Could Your Company Do with a Blog?,” told TechNewsWorld that the fact that bloggers are jailed in some countries demonstrates the potential power blogging holds.

“More and more people are looking at blogs, including journalists, to get news without the official line and bloggers as a group are pretty irreverent,” she said. “We say and do things that journalists and advertising-dependent media couldn’t do, not that they wouldn’t like to.”

Like many others, Ochman expects blogging to gain momentum because it represents a sea change. Even people without technical skills can publish to the Internet. But like anything else, she said, the cream will rise to the top.

“There’s said to be 17 million blogs and of those maybe a thousand have any real audience,” Ochman said. “There are people blogging about knitting and their cat, then there are people blogging about life-and-death political issues.”

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