Charting the downfall of Scientology in the information sphere


Bitter defrocked apostate
It has often been said that the decline in Scientology's fortunes coincided with the rise of the Internet, and if we examine the level of influence that Scientology exerts (political clout, number of victims/members, public image etc.) then it would certainly seem that Scientology started to wane just as ordinary people's access to the Internet waxed.

Back in the early 1990s, some Scientologist(s) must have evaluated the Internet medium in terms of its potential to be a threat or opportunity, and fortunately -- perhaps inevitably -- misunderstood the situation. It may be that nobody really considered the potential for the Internet to harm Scientology until the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology was created in July 1991, and that thereafter they were always playing catch-up.

With hindsight, the problem is clear. The hierarchic mindset fostered by Scientology simply could not comprehend the alternative mindset of a network of people with equal power. (Anonymity would pose additional problems to the "always attack, never defend" cult, but this generally came later because in the early days of the Internet, few people had multiple email addresses, nor understood how and why to conceal one's tracks online. The penet remailer service offered anonymity, but that didn't start until 1993.)

Scientology's first steps at exerting control over the Internet medium were along classic Scientology lines: the well-funded centrist attempts to exert control, and to shut down that which it cannot control. Failing to shut down the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, the cult sought to 'kill' individual messages that it didn't like the look of, and when this prompted numerous people to re-post copies of any message that got 'killed', they sought to render alt.religion.scientology useless by flooding it with thousands of spam messages -- which only served to make them look like a creepy cult with something to hide.

So far, so conventional. The well-heeled corporation attacks the point-source of its irritation. It has money, lawyers, technicians... but the Scientology strategy is based upon a misconception: the assumption that nothing has changed. That there remain a relatively small number of 'publishers' or 'broadcasters' and that these can be silenced by one form of attack or another. Deprive a person of a publisher, and his or her opinion can't be shared efficiently.

(At this point, they made their first cyber-enemy, hacker group 'Cult of the Dead Cow'. There would be others, later.)

Scientology attempts to dominate the Internet medium by silencing or dominating its key nodes. Shut them up, shut them down, or buy them up. A cyber-version of the dirty tricks campaign that was successful in silencing the Cult Awareness Network. And since Scientology is based upon endless drilling, a repetition of the tried-and-tested strategy was inevitable.

Go after the individual, and disclose his or her 'crimes'. Only that gets difficult when you start making enemies in cyberspace. People who were never 'in' and who haven't made you the gift of a confessional PC folder. People who are in far-away countries where the cult doesn't have as much influence as it might wish... but whose opinions can circle the world before breakfast.

That which can't be silenced should be flooded with garbage. And with websites becoming common, rather than simply email and newsgroups, the cyberspace battleground expanded. Now there were search engines, and hypertext links. The centrist, trying to be the single point of all information about Scientology, must have despaired at this stage. The cat was well and truly out of the bag. Scamizdat demonstrated that the RTC was no longer in control, which must have been a body-blow to those who sought to preserve their historical, hierarchical position. It was no longer a matter of stamping out dissent in a limited number of places, but the beginning of a war that Scientology couldn't help but lose.

Democratization was coming to cyberspace. More and more organizations were allowing people to create personal web pages. All across the board, prices were falling, with the inevitable endpoint of free web space. Free email had already appeared... and the trouble with free was that it didn't lead back to the individual. A message or an entire website could be disposable. Messages and websites could still be stamped out or drowned out, but more than a few of the people whose opinions were suppressed in this way took umbrage and redoubled their efforts to publish. The Internet was hydra-headed.

Scientology still had a lot of money, and a lot of members. Their strategy was a repeat: once again to try to drown out all relevant channels with a standard, approved message. Thus, we saw the famous Scientology 'Cookie Cutter' spam websites, meant to drown out all dissent when searching the Internet for Scientology. Once again: a backfire, because the identikit nature of the "I am a Scientologist..." websites made them a laughingstock, and further served to portray Scientology as eradicating individuality.

The world of the 1980s and 1990s was one in which relatively few people had the wherewithal to produce a film, or get a book published. The few books, newspaper and magazine articles, and TV documentaries about Scientology were appropriately damning... but they were relatively few and far between. By the late 1990s, however, virtually anybody with an opinion could publish it worldwide... and by the mid 2000s, virtually anybody could produce a short film, and share it in the same way. As with text on alt.religion.scientology, so with images and film. Golden Era Productions no longer exerted any kind of monopoly over the presentation of facts about Scientology or the highly controversial life of its founder. The under-funded, leaderless network had run rings around the wealthy centrist hierarchy.

It could be said that Scientology had accepted Internet defeat by 1998. This was the start of the "Scieno Sitter" software that attempted to conceal critical material from cult members; effectively blocking them from critical information. Not a very smart move in terms of what we know about human nature and forbidden knowledge, particularly knowledge concealed from a group who exult in "knowingness". Small wonder that the Scientology cult haemorrhaged members once the Internet became commonplace in homes and offices.

Later efforts to exert control over the Internet medium caused nothing but pain for Scientology. Each effort merely served to draw attention to the opinions that they sought to suppress, and their efforts at suppression became news itself. Each exposure served to further damage the veneer of respectability that the Church of Scientology had worked so hard to establish, and in one case gave birth to a new critic movement.

Scientology remains unable to adapt to the 21st century paradigm where anybody can publish. The policies of L Ron Hubbard as sole "source" have effectively doomed Scientology to be nibbled to death, with the hierarchy losing control of one mind at a time as each encounters the networked alternative. It is interesting to see, therefore, that one of the most prominent critics of the present-day 'Church of Scientology' entity seeks not to destroy the remainder of the hierarchy, but to supplant it. This is a very interesting piece of doublethink: can a person simultaneously destroy the old-fashioned, centric organization... and then hope to be at the centre of what remains? And if not... how does one ensure that Scientology does not fragment into a hundred different philosophies, each with their own opinions on "what works and should be preserved".

The simple answer is, you can't. It isn't just the 'Church of Scientology' entity that has been judged and found wanting, but Scientology itself. Put it in an arena where anybody can find facts (the dreaded 'dox') and express opinions if they wish to -- in safety -- and Scientology itself loses.

Organised Scientology still owns an awful lot of real estate, and holds a lot of cash... but that doesn't matter. Scientology has been defeated in the information sphere. Its books and films are an overpriced irrelevance in the 21st century, for the generations yet to come who will be completely baffled at the idea that information should not be freely available in a digital format. Anything put into the information sphere must compete with victims' stories, distinctly unauthorised biographies of LRH, and humorous material that is far more palatable than Scientology's 'official' output could ever be.

So: it's over. The corpse might still twitch a bit, but in terms of information -- brain activity if you will -- it's over. Scientology is dead.



Troublesome Internet Fringe Dweller
. . . <snip general awesome> . . . Back in the early 1990s, some Scientologist(s) must have evaluated the Internet medium in terms of its potential to be a threat or opportunity, and fortunately -- perhaps inevitably -- misunderstood the situation. It may be that nobody really considered the potential for the Internet to harm Scientology until the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology was created in July 1991, and that thereafter they were always playing catch-up . . . <snip> . . .

The fundamental problem with what ever analysis Scilons did in relation to the internet is that they were using L Ron Hubbard tech - thus, there is, I suggest, no "perhaps" about the inevitability of the misunderstanding.


Ordinary Human
What we are looking at in the present is the slowy fading after-image of the beast that was Scientology. As time goes on it will retreat more and more into itself as it tries desperately to shut out the world. It has already to a major degree retreated from the Internet, knowing that that battle has been totally lost. All it can do now is to try to prevent it's members from using the Internet, because once they do the result is inevitable. Having been dragged into the light, Scientology is turning to dust.




Gold Meritorious Patron
Good post freeminds!

I think what the COS fails to realise is ---

If everything was open and above board, if what they were doing was genuine and overall beneficial; or benevolent to society; if they were honest - the internet would not be such a devastating problem.

If their attempts to dampen the internet fires didn't consist of the same fiery rote, obviously indoctrinated, propaganda or smear campaigns they wouldn't be dealing with the unstoppable inferno they have now.
Because eventually truth is recognised.

When I first started reading about Sci, before I arrived here, I read an affidavit, can't remember whose, and my bullshit meter flickered. It is extremely strange stuff to read for a never in.

I had NO idea what Scientology was all about. I read some more life experiences and there was a common thread running throughout. Sure, there were some inconsistencies, but they usually mirrored the perspective or the personality writing about their experience.

Despite the limitations in being able to judge honesty over the net, if you "hear" many, many different voices saying the same core thing then you can stop dismissing it as one man's drug flashback and start "hearing" the truth and think maybe there is something to this?

The Sci's unleashed their own onto the net, flooding comment sections, cookie cutter sites and smearing sites.

The problem is that everyone had the same voice, and the same tone.

If three people tell me the exact same thing, in the same way, then I assume I am not listening to them but to their common master. If I defend something I passionately support, the emotion and personal expression will come through. It will also be noted by the reader.

COS-speak sounds abnormal to the common wog, COS fails to realise that it doesn't matter if you repeat the exact same thing a million times, if it sounds robotic and regurgitated, it won't be evaluated as worthwhile, or the truth, and dismissed.