Importance of Anonymity in Journalism
Updated on July 13, 2021: From now on, traffic filtering, malware protection, and suspicious DNS activity blocking are available as a part of the separate DNS Firewall app.
Journalism is an exciting and demanding job. You must know where to look and who to ask to get a relevant and, more importantly, unique material. You have to be ready to swim between two waters of various parties’ interests. You need to be polite and pushy at the same time. And finally, you ought to learn to stay anonymous in delicate situations. This last point is what we’d like to discuss today.
Remaining unnoticed and undetected is a vital skill for journalists for many reasons. Some of them are more obvious, while others may surprise you. And seeing how virtual private networks are a widely acclaimed tool for hiding your identity online, we’ll be resorting to them when speaking about internet journalism. Without further ado, let’s dive right into it!
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If a journalist wants to conduct an effective research of a case, especially a spicy one, they often don’t go in armed with a studio mic and a press card. Or, in the case of online journalism, they don’t write from corporate emails and official social media accounts.
Oftentimes, it’s much more efficient to anonymously contact people that might have important information. For instance, by approaching them through social networks, or via forums. In any case, masking your true IP with a VPN will ensure that even a background check of such fake account will not be able to uncover you.
This aspect kind of stems from the previous one. It’s not uncommon for a journalist’s investigation to bring to light skeletons in someone’s closet. Obviously, these Someones are not too happy about their closet graveyards getting dug in. Some of them might seek to trace back the journalist’s personality to express their discontent more directly. Which is disturbingly not that difficult to do nowadays with all the pervasive corporate and government surveillance.
So if the subject of your investigation happens to be high-powered (which, let’s be honest, will only make for more interesting headlines), you will certainly do yourself a favor by concealing your real identity. VPNs’ IP obfuscation feature combined with the use of HTTPS and Disposable Email Addresses should do just fine.
Securing your sources
Now that we’ve protected ourselves, it is time to take care of others. We’re talking about informants – people within the organization or close to the person in question which secretly leak you data for your work. While you may be completely beyond danger, they are the ones who risk a lot. That’s why any responsible journalist will always strive to secure these sources.
First and foremost, encrypt EVERYTHING. Your data, your disk, your flash drive, your internet traffic (the latter is where VPN Unlimited works especially great with its military-great AES-256 encryption). Also, avoid communicating with sources by phone – your calls can be monitored by law enforcement agencies. And don’t forget to educate your sources about securing the information to prevent them from making mistakes and leaving trails.
Phew, up until this point the piece looks somewhat sombre, don’t you think? Well, luckily the need for anonymity in journalism is not reserved to hiding from the subjects of an investigation. Sometimes, and it is more of a case for international journalism, important information is simply unavailable in a journalist’s location. For instance, your foreign source is only active in a local social media, or an important publication is allocated on a government website that forbids access from abroad.
Whatever the case, getting geo-blocked when you are one step from the material of your life is really painful. Whatever shall you do? Well, your best bet is to choose a VPN server in the location you need, evading this restriction completely. Or you could, you know, just travel there, that is certainly an interesting option 😉
Do you have any other examples of the importance of anonymity for journalists? Share them in the comments below!