Scientology and The Internet - Scientology's Online Campaign

Scientology's Online Campaign

After failing to remove the newsgroup, Scientologists adopted a strategy of newsgroup spam and intimidation. Scientologists hired third parties to regularly flood the newsgroup with pro-scientology messages, vague anti-scientology messages, irrelevant comments, and accusations that other posters are secret Scientologists intent on tracking and punishing posters. This makes the newsgroup virtually unreadable via online readers such as Google Groups, although more specialized newsreading software that can filter out all messages by specific "high noise" posters make the newsgroup more usable.

While legal battles were being fought in the courts, an equally intense and aggressive campaign was waged online. The newsgroup alt.religion.scientology found itself at the center of an electronic maelstrom of information and disinformation, as the newsgroup itself was attacked both literally and figuratively. Tens of thousands of junk messages were spammed onto the newsgroup, rendering it nearly unreadable at times when the message "floods" were at their peaks. Over one million sporgery articles were injected into the newsgroup by Scientology management and staff; former Scientology staff member Tory Christman has spoken at length about her involvement in these attacks. Lawyers representing Scientology made public appeals to Internet service providers to remove the newsgroup completely from their news servers. Furthermore, anonymous participants in the newsgroup kept up a steady stream of flame wars and off-topic arguments. Participants on the newsgroup accused Scientology of orchestrating these electronic attacks, though the organization consistently denied any wrongdoing.

In the early days of the World Wide Web, Scientology attempted a similar strategy to make finding websites critical of the organization more difficult. Scientology employed Web designers to write thousands of Web pages for their site, thus flooding early search engines. This problem was solved by the innovation of clustering responses from the same Web server, showing no more than the top two results from any one site (e.g. Google).

Since the inception of the Internet, Scientology has made a policy of using copyright infringement laws to prosecute various Scientology critics posting exposing information on the Web. The Church uses legal pressure combined with blackmail and character assassination to attempt to win many court cases in which it involves itself. On the other side of the battle, many Web-page developers have linked the words "Dianetics" and "Scientology" to Operation Clambake. This resulted in the anti-Scientology site having the highest Google index on the term for a while, which in turn resulted in Scientology persuading Google to remove links to the site until international outcry led to the links being restored. This might be considered an early example of a Google bomb, and has led to questions about the power and obligations of Internet search providers.

In the 1990s Scientology was distributing a special software package for its members to protect them from "unapproved" material about the church. The software is designed to completely block out the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, various anti-Scientology web sites, and all references to various critics of Scientology. This software package was derided by critics, who accused the organization of censorship and called the program "Scieno Sitter", after the content-control software net-filter program Cyber Sitter. Since no updates have been reported since 1998 (and the original filter program only worked with Windows 95) the package is unlikely to be in use with recent operating systems and browsers due to software rot.

In June 2006, Scientology lawyers sent cease-and-desist letters to Max Goldberg, founder of the website YTMND, asking him to take down all sites that either talked about or mocked Scientology, which had recently become a fad on the site following a popular South Park episode. Goldberg responded by saying that the "claims are completely groundless and I'm not removing anything," adding to the members of the site, "it should only be a matter of time before we're sued out of existence." In response, YTMNDers created yet more sites about Scientology, and these were highlighted on the main page. They also campaigned to Google bomb "The Unfunny Truth About Scientology" site. No legal action was taken against YTMND or Goldberg.

In August 2007, MSNBC quoted Associated Press in an article on the Wikipedia Scanner, that computers owned by the Church of Scientology have been removing criticism in the Scientology entry on Wikipedia. A Fox News article also reported that Church of Scientology computers had been used to delete references of the relationship between Scientology and the Cult Awareness Network, in the article on the Cult Awareness Network on Wikipedia. In May 2009, the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee decided to restrict access to its site from Church of Scientology IP addresses, to prevent self-serving edits by Scientologists. A "host of anti-Scientologist editors" were topic-banned as well. The committee concluded that both sides had "gamed policy" and resorted to "battlefield tactics", with articles on living persons being the "worst casualties".

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