The Bahá’í Internet Agency states on its website that it “assists the global Bahá’í community in its use of the Internet, providing technical support to Bahá’í institutions and supporting promising initiatives of individuals. Established in 2004 by the Universal House of Justice, the Bahá’í Internet Agency operates under the guidance of the International Teaching Centre.”
The decision to establish the Agency was communicated to the various Baha’i “National Spiritual Assemblies” in the following correspondence, dated June 2005:
Universal House of Justice, Department of the Secretariat
16 June 2005
Transmitted by email
To all National Spiritual Assemblies
Dear Bahá’í Friends,
Opportunities to spread the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and to make known to society at large the activities of the Bahá’í community have grown markedly in recent years, especially with the rise in use of computer technology. Following consultations with the International Teaching Centre, the Universal House of Justice has decided to create an international Bahá’í Internet Agency to assist the :Counsellors and National Spiritual Assemblies in addressing certain issues associated with the propagation and protection of the Faith as they pertain to the Internet. Operating under the direct supervision of the Teaching Centre, the agency is based in the United States, where it has established an office with a full-time director.
In the months ahead, after preliminary preparations have been made, the Bahá’í Internet Agency will contact National Assemblies and provide information about the services it can offer. The Bahá’í Computer and Communications Association (BCCA) and the Security Advisory Group, which have over the years extended technical and Internet-related support to national communities worldwide, will :continue to make a valuable contribution to this area of endeavour, functioning now under the direction of the agency.
With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
cc: International Teaching Centre
Boards of Counsellors
Bahá’í Internet Agency
… The House of Justice feels that, when Bahá’ís are teaching in an online “chat room” and Covenant-breakers intrude upon the discussion, the friends should not feel obliged to sign off simply because Covenant-breakers are present in this virtual space. They should, however, refrain from knowingly engaging the Covenant-breakers in discussions and, in any case, should avoid being drawn into contentious or disputatious situations. (October 27, 1997 to an individual)
… The wisdom of participating in particular discussions, must, of necessity, depend upon circumstances prevailing at the time. When, through such discussions, the Faith is attacked or erroneous information about it is disseminated, it may become necessary for individual Bahá’ís to actively defend it. In some circumstances, however, to avoid participating in argumentative exchanges, attracting attention to enemies of the Faith, or engaging Covenant-breakers, it will be more appropriate to withdraw from the discussion.
… The participants in such a discussion should avoid disputation and, if they are unable to resolve an issue, they should refer the point to the Universal House of Justice since, in accordance with the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “By this body all the difficult problems are to be resolved…”
What BIA does?
Instructs Baha’is :
Having multiple screen names and identities is allowed in discussion forums. While obscuring one’s identity is acceptable, lying about oneself is not.
Monitors use of the social networking site Facebook
In February, 2008, Matthew Weinberg, Program Director for the Baha’i Internet Agency, released the following email letter on behalf of the Haifan Baha’i administration (see Baha’i Faith). The letter refers to the activities of the “Covenant-breaker Martin Lavallee”, a member of the schismatic Orthodox Baha’is and warns members of the Haifan Baha’i community against possible ‘exposure’ to this individual arising from contact on the social networking site, Facebook. “Covenant breaking” is a term employed by the Haifan Baha’is to refer to groups and individuals who challenge “the authority of the center of the Baha’i Faith”, which in this context refers to the authority of the Universal House of Justice, and is considered “the most serious spiritual offence that a Bahá’í can commit. It’s called Covenant-Breaking and is considered to be a spiritual disease and is punished by expulsion from the community.”
“28 February 2008
To All National Spiritual Assemblies
Dear Bahá’í Friends,
We have been requested by the World Centre to alert you to the current activities of the Covenant-breaker Martin Lavallee on Facebook.com. This individual administers the “Orthodox Bahá’is” page on Facebook and also has a personal page on the site. There have been recent instances where Bahá’í youth with accounts on Facebook have unwittingly accepted invitations from Lavallee to be a “friend” or to become “members” of the Covenant-breaker page. Further, as a consequence of the Facebook networking scheme, if an individual accepts a direct invitation from Lavallee or any other member of his group, the “Friends” list (with e-mail addresses) of that individual becomes exposed. In this way, those with insincere intentions have the potential to directly contact an increasing number of Bahá’is, interactions that could pose a threat to the spiritual well-being of youth and other believers who are not deepened in the Covenant.
Each National Assembly will need to determine the necessity and most appropriate manner of discreetly informing believers of this situation in consultation and with the assistance of the Counsellors. In doing so it will of course be important to avoid creating undue anxiety or curiosity about the nature of Covenant-breaker material on the Internet..
It is our intention to provide more general guidance in the near future about how online social networks can be constructively and safely used by Bahá’ís.
With loving greetings,
Matt Weinberg Program Director Bahá’í Internet Agency
cc: Members of the Continental Boards of Counsellors”
Monitors schismatic Baha’i groups and “Covenant Breaker” websites
The Baha’i Internet Agency also monitors the online activity of schismatic Baha’i groups, and groups or individuals known as “Covenant Breakers” (see above section). In correspondence entitled “Good object lesson for avoiding reading Covenant-breaker sites”, Susan Maneck has responded to the issue of the avoidance of schismatic group’s online material as follows:
There isn’t any ‘clear’ guidance on this issue but if you have suspicions you can always contact the Baha’i Internet Agency. They pretty much keep up with what is on the internet. There are ‘key words’ which are often used by these groups which help me to spot them right away. For instance anyone purporting to be a Baha’i who goes on and on about the “Throne of David” is likely to be a Jensenite because this is something they are obsessed with. Anyone referring to mainstream Baha’is as “Haifan Baha’is” are likely to be hostile towards the Universal House of Justice whether they are declared Covenant breakers or not. Remeyites use terms like ‘sans-Guardian’ and ‘heterodox’ to refer to mainstream Baha’is. Then, of course, there are people like Stephen who may throw these terms around without having the foggiest idea who they imply. ;-}
I would like to add here that if there are any questions people have regarding some of the material they read on the internet, they should feel free to raise them here. What I have *discouraged* is the posting of the URLs of Covenant breakers and those hostile towards the Faith or the Universal House of Justice.
Prior communication from the International Teaching Centre to Baha’i academics regarding Internet activities
In illustrating the coercive measures historically employed by the Baha’i organization in dealing with internet based criticism, Professor Juan Cole cites a 1996 letter to a Baha’i academic from Stephen Birkland, Member of the Continental Board of Counsellors in the Americas, written in consultation with the International Teaching Centre (the body currently responsible for the administration of the Baha’i Internet Agency), stating that “The International Teaching Centre has asked me–with the knowledge of the Universal House of Justice–to warn you that your promulgation of views contrary to the Teachings was damaging to the Cause. If you were to resume in any fashion this course of action, the effect would be to bring you into direct conflict with the Covenant.”
“Protection of the Cause: Opposition Sites are known to the Institutions, and action is taken where appropriate.”
|Glen Fullmer, Director of Communications for the Baha’i Community of the United States|
In a 2005 presentation by Glen Fullmer, Mr. Fullmer outlined the activities, responsibilities and strategies employed by the Baha’i Internet Agency. During his talk, Mr.Fullmer discussed the relationship between the Bahai Internet Agency and “Protection of the Cause” and “Propagation of the Faith”, highlighting the relationship between the Agency, the International Teaching Center, and the various National Spiritual Assemblies. When explaining the topic of “Protection of the Faith on the Internet”, Mr Fullmer refers to a slide which states that:
“Opposition Sites are known to the Institutions, and action is taken where appropriate.”
“In general however, the best defense is a good offense. Individuals and institutions can create lots of positive content about the Faith to counteract the negative effects of opposition sites.”
“In some cases, an individual response can be even more effective.”