While a number of observers claim that Scientology’s membership has stagnated in several European countries, a different view comes from the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
According to the 2010 security report of the Ministry of Interior of the state, Scientology has registered a strong increase in the area, both in members and in activities, over the past few years, partly due to its use of new media. While the total estimated number of members (600 in North Rhine-Westphalia, and between 5,000 and 6,000 in Germany) is not very high, the trend itself, as well as the use of new media tools, deserves attention. For years, state security agencies in Germany have been allowed to monitor Scientology due to some aspects of its teaching considered as potentially incompatible with the country’s constitutional values.
This means that they publish results of their monitoring in their yearly reports. The 2010 report for North Rhine-Westphalia indicates that Scientology is recruiting new members, but no longer primarily through street propaganda. The Internet, and more particularly YouTube, Twitter and social networks such as Facebook, are said to have become primary tools of propagation.
One example is a Scientology-sponsored YouTube channel on human rights; young people looking for resources in order to write a paper find the video clips attractive and informative, conceived specifically for them. A link leads to a website from which additional material can be ordered. Similarly, material against drugs can be obtained from other Scientology-sponsored websites for school use. The report claims that this is ultimately a way to draw the interest of new, young people to Scientology.
Making friends on Facebook is reported to be another tactic used by movement members in order to find new prospects: Facebook alone has some 12 million members in Germany, and social networks are virtual spaces where young people spend much time—and share personal information. Besides this, the Internet is also used in more classical ways for improving Scientology’s image through PR campaigns, such as “Meet a Scientologist,” launched in 2010.
In a similar way, any online article critical of Scientology will receive many comments offering a counterview, actually written by Scientologists acting upon instructions by the church, conveying the impression that a majority in society has a positive view of the group.
(Verfassungsschutzbericht des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen über das Jahr 2010, Düsseldorf, 2011; the report (in German only) can also be downloaded from: http://www.mik.nrw.de/verfassungsschutz/publikationen/berichte.html?eID=pub&f=146&s=0bfa96)