While Scientology has been more effective than most religions in controlling its teachings and official writings from online use and criticism, recent events suggest that the dynamics of the Internet have overtaken the controversial church.
David Sarno, writing in the Los Angeles Times (March 3), reports that there have been a series of challenges to the Church of Scientology’s “well-established ability to tightly control its public image. The largest thorn in the church’s side has been a group called Anonymous, a diffuse online coalition of skeptics, hackers, and activists, many of them young and Web-savvy.” The loosely based movement has encouraged former Scientologists to come forward to relate their negative accounts of life in Scientology.
Two women who are close relatives of Scientology leaders recently launched their own website, ExScientologyKids.com, accusing the church of physical and mental abuse, while the popular Internet culture blog BoingBoing has issued the inflammatory allegation that the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, plagiarized his teachings from a 1934 German book called Scientologie.
More alarming to church officials have been the threats and “cyberattacks” (including a bomb threat) against church personnel and websites. The Anonymous group has even taken its protests to the streets, as thousands of masked members picketed Scientology locations around the world. Much of the protests started in January when a Tom Cruise video about the church was leaked on You Tube and then ridiculed and passed around in cyberspace.
When the church charged copyright infringement, one prominent web poster refused to take the video off his site, encouraging more people to defy the church. The new wave of activists soon made common cause with longtime church critics and ex-member groups, writes Sarno. He adds that all of this ferment has given more courage to ex-members and even to journalists formerly concerned about church lawsuits against negative coverage.