May 30, 2009

Scientology Blocked From Altering Wikipedia Entries

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

On Thursday, Wikipedia was prompted to bar online edits from computer addresses "owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates," because of a "longstanding struggle" between admirers of Scientology and critics of the group.

Groups of editors took sides in a Scientology public-image war on Wikipedia's site by tinkering with topics that 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 spokeswoman for a scientology church said that the Wikipedia arbitration is part of a routine process for handling its 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 editing clash was described by the Wikipedia committee 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 is creating alternative accounts to perpetrate mischief or fraud at the site.

Coordinated Wikipedia edits made from Scientology computers and critics of the church citing self-published material to back entries was listed among aggravating factors.

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

Wikipedia works by letting anyone with an Internet connection contribute or edit content.  It 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."

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

The court is hearing complaints from two women stating that the church manipulated her into buying $28,000 worth of Scientology products, like an "electrometer" that measures mental energy.

Another complaint is that she was forced by her Scientologist employer to undergo testing and enroll in courses in 1998, but was fired when she resisted.

The plaintiffs' lawyers say that Scientology uses harassment and pressure on victims who show signs of vulnerability.

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

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

The Church of Scientology was founded in the U.S. in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and is officially recognized as a religion here for tax purposes.

Politicians in France, Germany Greece and Russia have accused the religion as exploiting its members financially.

The movement has a worldwide membership of 12 million, with celebrities like John Travolta and Tom Cruise being amongst those members.


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