The Church of Scientology has reportedly been banned from making edits to Wikipedia. The Register is reporting that the Wikipedia Arbitration Committee voted 10 to 0 (with one abstention) in favour of a move to ban all IP numbers associated with the controversial organisation from editing articles. The block takes effect immediately.
The Church of Scientology has struggled to keep control of its public image in recent years. It was established in 1952 to promote Science Fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics’ self-help programme. In its 57 year history Scientology has been controversial due to its mysterious teachings, only available to those willing to pay vast sums of money and undergo regular ‘security checks’ to ensure they could be trusted.
Those unable to pay are sometimes invited to join the ‘Sea Org’, a group of people who sign ‘Billion-year contracts’ to devote their life (and future lives) to doing hard, and often menial, work for the Church. There have been suspicious deaths at Scientology centres and even the Scientology’s status as a Church has been questioned by those who believe that they use the ‘Religion’ status purely to claim tax exemption.
While in the past dissent was dealt with by legal threats, smear campaigns and and dirty tricks, Scientology has found the age of the Social Web much harder to control. Anonymous, a loosely-associated group of people across the world opposed to the ‘Church’, use the internet to organise regular pickets at Scientology centres and post Youtube videos exposing the organisation’s wrongdoings.
The ‘Church’ has fought back with takedown notices and by mobilising its members to post comments supporting Scientology. Long-time anti-Scientology campaigner Mark Bunker had his Youtube account repeatedly shut down after complaints about the content of his videos.
The problem Scientology faces is that the web is getting bigger and faster by the day. Messages spread faster than ever and the dominant message out there is that ‘Scientology is bad’. For an organisation that trades on selling its secrets for a huge fee, the open, social web is a dangerous place. Anyone considering joining the Scientology is one Google search away from all the criticism of the Church that they could want.
With this new Wikipedia ban it looks like a net is closing in on Scientology that it may struggle to escape from.