Wikipedia blocks Scientology from altering entries

May 30, 2009 by Glenn Chapman
Wikipedia

Wikipedia has blocked the Church of Scientology from editing entries at the communally-crafted online encyclopedia due to an unrelenting battle over the group's image.

A "longstanding struggle" between admirers of Scientology and critics of the group prompted on Thursday to bar online edits from computer addresses "owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates."

An array of editors believed to have taken sides in a Scientology public-image war at Wikipedia have also been barred from tinkering with topics related to the church.

"Each side wishes the articles within this topic to reflect their point of view and have resorted to battlefield editing tactics," senior Wikipedia editors said in arbitration committee findings backing the decision.

"The worst casualties have been biographies of living people, where attempts have been repeatedly made to slant the article either towards or against the subject, depending on the point of view of the contributing editor."

A church spokeswoman downplayed the development, saying the Wikipedia arbitration committee is part of a routine process for handling conflicts at the website.

"Do Scientologists care what has been posted on Wikipedia? Of course," said Karin Pouw. "Some of it has been very hateful and erroneous. We hope all this will result in more accurate and useful articles on Wikipedia."

The Wikipedia committee described the editing clash as "ongoing and corrosive" with "persistent point-of-view pushing."

"The corrosive atmosphere has resulted in normally neutral editors adopting polarized positions in countless minor sub-feuds," the committee said in written findings. "Sockpuppetry is rife."

Sockpuppetry refers to creating alternative accounts to perpetrate mischief or fraud at the website.

Listed among aggravating factors were coordinated Wikipedia edits made from Scientology computers and critics of the church citing self-published material to back entries.

"Many Scientology articles fail to reflect a neutral point of view and instead are either disparaging or complimentary," the committee concluded.

"Neutral editors entering this topic are frequently attacked from both sides and stand little chance of making progress until the key players disengage."

Wikipedia warns that Scientology-related entries are "a hostile editing environment."

Wikipedia prides itself on allowing anyone with an Internet connection to contribute or edit content. Wikipedia is one of the most-visited sites on the Internet.

"What is really important is Wikipedia has stopped those involved in biased editing for the purpose of antagonism instead of information," Pouw said. "It's good from our perspective."

The Church of Scientology and six of its French leaders went on trial on Monday in Paris on charges of organized fraud that could lead to an outright ban on the organization in France.

Known for its Hollywood celebrity followers Tom Cruise and John Travolta, the group is in the dock in Paris for the second time in six years.

The court is hearing a complaint from two women, one of whom alleges she was manipulated into handing over 20,000 euros (28,000 dollars) for costly Scientology products, such as an "electrometer" to measure mental energy.

The second complainant alleges she was forced by her Scientologist employer to undergo testing and enroll in courses in 1998. When she resisted, she was fired.

The plaintiffs' lawyers argue that Scientology resorts to harassment and pressure to rein in victims who show signs of vulnerability.

The Scientology Celebrity Centre in Paris, its director Alain Rosenberg and five other top officials are accused of preying on fragile followers "with the goal of seizing their fortune by exerting a psychological hold."

The group's spokeswoman in France has rejected the accusations, insisting that Scientology was a legitimate religion being "hounded" in French courts because it advocated new ideas.

Founded in the United States in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology is officially recognized as a religion here for tax purposes.

Politicians in some European countries including France, Germany, Greece and Russia have accused the movement of exploiting its members financially.

The movement claims a worldwide membership of 12 million.

(c) 2009 AFP

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User comments : 14

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Fazer
1.6 / 5 (7) May 30, 2009
It sounds like Wikipedia is still only credible on subjects about which there are no opposing viewpoints.

Perhaps they should simply state the basic facts about Scientology, say a paragraph that everyone can agree upon, and ban further editing.

Then they could allow anyone to add links to other pages (friendly or otherwise) where more information can be found, and let the users decide for themselves what to believe.
docknowledge
4.5 / 5 (4) May 30, 2009
Being an editor with several thousand Wikipedia edits, I'm afraid there is some truth to what you say, Fazer. Articles that attract a lot of publicity tend to represent -- unsurprisingly -- the commonly accepted view. In the case of Scientology there isn't a "commonly accepted" view.

However, having an opinion is one thing. If you can give a reliable, independent third party reference, chances very good that you can at least get a word in edgewise. The difference with this subject, and why Wikipedia blocked Scientology, was that they were breaking the editing rules. The rules say, for example, that you personally can't have several accounts with different names, and pretend that you are different people. (That's what a sockpuppet is, in this context.) I.e., the Scientology organization is willing to break the rules to make their points, and to suppress those of others. That's not acceptable to the Wikimedia Foundation.











John_balls
not rated yet May 30, 2009
It sounds like Wikipedia is still only credible on subjects about which there are no opposing viewpoints.



Perhaps they should simply state the basic facts about Scientology, say a paragraph that everyone can agree upon, and ban further editing.



Then they could allow anyone to add links to other pages (friendly or otherwise) where more information can be found, and let the users decide for themselves what to believe.

So we can create links that are nut trust worthy promoting a cult. I don't thinks so.
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2009
http://www.skepdi...tic.html

Laugh or cry as you please...
KBK
4 / 5 (1) May 30, 2009
The Scientology Celebrity Centre in Paris, its director Alain Rosenberg and five other top officials are accused of preying on fragile followers "with the goal of seizing their fortune by exerting a psychological hold."

Kinda reminds me of the public's understanding of all organized religion of yesteryear. Still goes on today.... it's just a bit more subtle.

earls
5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2009
Xenu, lord emperor, dictator of the Galactic Confederacy, will crush the Thetans of all who oppose his rule.

BOW BEFORE HIS MIGHT!!1
Fazer
5 / 5 (2) May 30, 2009
The point is that Wikipedia doesn't work on all subjects. I don't care if they have an entry for yet another strange religion/cult, or not. I was just making a suggestion on how to resolve it.

If they are going to cover a subject, what is better, falsified data or a list of links that the user has to evaluate. Some links are going to be there any way.

It sounds like people from both sides are willing to break the rules already. What good is banning going to do? They will still try to make new identities and this will keep happening.

It's like adding hate crime laws over existing laws. If someone beats me up, it is already against the law. Adding another crime to the list isn't going to stop someone intent on committing the act.

I guess it just comes down to the fact that some people will always break the rules, no matter how hard you try to prevent it.
Birger
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2009
Highly inflamed topics are probably not suitable for a Wikipedia approach. I agree with Fazer. And some controversies do not go away until one side has literally died away, hence the saying "science progresses one funeral at a time". It is a sad statement of how humans handle what should be a detached search for truth.
docknowledge
not rated yet May 30, 2009
Fazer and Birger, agree that Wiki doesn't work well on all subjects. But hey, that's true of subjects outside of Wikipedia, too. Abortion? Death sentence? Evolution? Makin' great strides in those debates.

I never heard "science progresses one funeral at a time", but they say something similar in NASA: There will be a change in policy on such-and-such when the current generation retires.

One thing I did want to be clear on? There are a range of Wikipedia instructions to editors, all the way from tentative ideas, suggestions for writing style, all the way to "you don't do this ever, or you are banned". The banning is non-partisan. Not related to being politically correct. You create multiple accounts for the purpose of deceiving other editors -- you are history.

If it had been the case that both sides were violating hard-and-fast rules, both would have been banned.

Answering your question about the effectiveness of banning, Fazer, I'd prefer not to explain my usual role in Wikipedia, but surprisingly, banning generally does work. (It's one of those social experiments which seem to suggest that Wikis might have a broader long term value.)
Flakk
3.8 / 5 (4) May 30, 2009
"The Scientology Celebrity Centre in Paris, its director Alain Rosenberg and five other top officials are accused of preying on fragile followers "with the goal of seizing their fortune by exerting a psychological hold."

LOL, Sounds like any other religion to me.
Fazer
5 / 5 (1) May 31, 2009
Oh, maybe I misunderstood. I thought that they HAD banned people from both sides. The article seems to indicate that.

I definitely think that Wikipedia is a noble experiment, and it does provide a wealth of information on so many subjects. I am surprised that they trust people to just sign up and edit articles, considering how many people are willing to abuse the rules.

I suppose if they instituted a rating system, so that you could only make edits if you were in good standing, then some would abuse that as well and attack those with whom they disagree by voting down their rating.

'Eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for our freedoms', but it's worth it. Thanks for being vigilant, Doc.
wordofmouth
5 / 5 (3) May 31, 2009
Ok, scientology was founded and developed by an average fiction writer.My suggestion is to allow fiction writers to continue the controversy for its comical and satire values.
Fazer
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2009
Ok, scientology was founded and developed by an average fiction writer.


Yes, and his books are always getting in the way when I search the shelves, hoping to find something I have not yet read by Heinlein.
TheRogue
4.7 / 5 (3) May 31, 2009
The article mentions "admirers" of Scientology. There are none. One is either a member and passionately defensive or one has been in it, found out that much of it did not work for them and/or others and have tried to get their experience out to others. Scientology spends millions trying to prevent the latter, even buying off witnesses as they did in the Paris case. As it happens, I was in, got wonderful results personally, but could not stomach the inner workings (and what I personally considered to be crimes) of higher management. I don't fight with them. I simply no longer support them with my presence or my cheque book. That's the free market at work.