Guide to Help Cyber-Dissidents Beat Censors

With all the recent bruhaha in the U.S. about corporate employees being disciplined or pink-slipped over personal blog entries which reveal trade secrets or say unflattering things about their employers, it’s easy to forget that, in many parts of the world, the consequences of posting unpopular or unsanctioned material online can be much higher.

To that end, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans Frontières, known by its French acronym RSF) has published its Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents at this week’s Apple Expo in Paris. The 1.6 MB PDF document (produced with assistance from the French Foreign Ministry and available in English, French, Chinese, Persian, and Arabic) offers a detailed guide to blogging and online syndication terminology; an overview of services and tools available to bloggers; concrete advice on setting up, designing, and maintaining blogs; details on getting blogs into search engines; and even a discussion of journalistic ethics.

"Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure," writes Julien Pain in the guide’s introduction. Depending on the level of risk bloggers feel they might be taking, the guide offers concrete advice to avoiding the authorities and getting material past government censorship efforts: specific tactics vary from simply using different cybercafes and pseudonyms to using assymetric encryption software and anonymizing proxy services located in other countries. The risks faced by bloggers and online dissidents in some countries is very real: Arash Sigarchi, who contributed to the guide, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for posting online messages critical of the Iran’s government.

The guide concludes with list of countries which are "champions&" of Internet censorship: in case you’re curious, the RSF ranks China highest, as the country has managed to expand its Internet capabilities while blocking nearly all material criticizing the regime: "A call for free elections, for example, has a maximum online life of about half an hour. " Runners up include Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.

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