In the pre-web days, Scientology had it easy — through lawsuits and copyright claims, it was able to keep some measure of control over its message and its portrayal in the media. But it’s no accident that with the Internet’s spread, more and more information about the group has become available, and little of it flattering. And the Church has struck back with force.
YouTube is only the latest front in this battle, with skirmishes stretching back at least a year, including the notable case of stressed BBC reporter vs. Scientology camera crews and of course the epic Tom Cruise recruitment tape/Anonymous battle. But while Scientology’s response rate to new communication methods is a little slow, they’ve finally stepped up their game with a shiny new custom sponsor account:
The 82 official Church videos are not embeddable, and are in fact difficult to access individually (especially if the custom Flash player isn’t loading correctly on your browser). And the quality varies wildly — while the introductory videos are cheaply-done AfterEffects clips with rather stern voiceover, most of the account seems to be a dumping place for previously existing promotional videos, like this ten-minute celebration of the opening of The Way To Happiness Foundation.
There are a few pieces that seem oriented towards a web audience: The Parts of Man is actually somewhat compelling — short and well-edited and focused. Its focus, though, is on making the term Thetan seem less ridiculous, making arguments like “If you have your appendix removed, does your personality change? Are you any less you? Of course not.”
But there is no possibility for responding in either text or video form. Gawker’s Nick Douglas writes “I’m baffled why the Church, after putting together such a friendly little propaganda channel, not only disabled all comments (a reasonable way to avoid actually diving into two-way conversation) but disabled embedding and turned its channel into a tidy menu.” But this matches perfectly with the Scientology methodology — embrace a new form of communication, just so long as it can maintain complete control over it.
Meanwhile, of course, attacks against anti-Church YouTube users, such as Mark Bunker of xenutv.com, continue. Part of me wants to call the relationship between Scientology and the Internet love-hate — while the Church makes great use of online tools to spread its message, it can no longer maintain a stranglehold over public discussion. And the stories that have spread as a result offer no better argument for the preservation of net neutrality.
The truth of the matter is that no matter how much Flash the Church adds to its user page, a YouTube search for Scientology still brings up all the anti-Xenu rhetoric you’d ever desire. For now, at least, many different points of view are still being heard online.