Over at The Kernel, Jesse Hicks has put together a fascinating account of the Church of Scientology’s relationship with the Internet. So, how has a notoriously secretive and hierarchical organization dealt with the world’s most “open and radically nonhierarchical platform for communication”? Not well. Scientology’s antagonistic relationship to the Internet dates back to the web’s early days: when an early ’90s message board became a gathering place for Scientology critics, the Church launched a full-scale war on the site. Things have not improved in the intervening two decades. Why?
Mark Ebner, another journalist who’s often written about the church, offers an even blunter assessment. “We (journos, apostates and critics alike) saw the Internet undoing of Scientology coming around ’96,” he emails. The Internet amplified the reach of critics and brought them together; it helped potential defectors find critical information otherwise suppressed by the church. (Tory Christman remembers the software sent to members in 1998: described as a Web page builder, it also covertly blocked users from viewing anti-Scientology websites.) “The Internet pulled back the curtain to find Hubbard bare, and caught the Office of Special Affairs with their pants down,” Ebner writes. “Years later, Anonymous came to Cyber Town and strafed Scientology while they weren’t looking.”