I have to admit, I'm kind of thankful the Church of Scientology exists. I mean, between their inability to photoshop their own rallies and their dedication to using IP laws to simultaneously silence criticism while Streisanding themselves into internet oblivion, the jokes practically write themselves. I personally know this, because whenever I see that a close friend or family member is having a bad day, I simply tap them on the shoulder, say "Church of Scientology", and then we both laugh and move on with a much better, funnier day. For me, it's the futility of it all that is so hilarious, and I'll be Xenu'd if they just can't keep making the same mistakes.
Take the story Rich Kulawiec writes us about, for instance. It apparently starts with a hapless Amazon seller called Hannah's Attic And Place accidentally offering his wares for pennies on the dollar due to an errant youngster. When some customers placed orders, they were subsequently informed that the pricing had been a mistake. This grated upon one buyer, who complained in the reviews section. And then the complainer found out that the seller was a hardy little David-Miscaviage-in-training, with all the awesome threatening behavior one would expect from such a person.
My favorite part about this letter is how it goes from zero to crazy in less than a hundred words. "First, let me apologize. Then let me tell you all about the horrific things I'm going to do to you for having an opinion!" Delightful. Here's what's most fun about this: despite nobody knowing for sure that this seller is a Scientology whackjob, despite nobody having any actual confirmation that a simple online review has resulted in attention from the infamous SeaOrg buckets of crazy, that organization has made themselves such a wonderful caricature that it all just might be possible. After all, we can be damned sure that Scientology has unleashed horrific evils on all of us before.
Now, while the seller has since gone to some lengths to delete everything they could from Amazon, one would think that both Amazon and law enforcement would be quite interested in folks threatening buyers. After all, the Church of Scientology might have many celebrities, and regular folks, constantly filling their coffers in exchange for having someone twist their thetans or whatever, but they've tangled with the U.S. government before and got a nice black eye over it. And to really incur retribution in America, making waves for a billion dollar corporation like Amazon ain't gonna win you any favors, either.
In the meantime, Hannah's Attic And Place (we must not forget about the place!) and their threats have gone viral, Streisanding around the interwebz to make sure everyone knows what jerks they are. That's so much more effective than the simple negative review they were trying to get taken down in the first place. Oh, Scientology, never stop being crazy.
Please note that members of the group frequently wears masks covering their entire faces.
This is an important distinction, as certain members of the surveillance unit might have been more inclined to snoop on more easily identified, unmasked citizens. Now, I can understand why the NYPD might want to uncover the identities of Anonymous members as the (not really an) organization has wreaked a lot of havoc in various areas, most of them online. But there is something unsettling about a police force attending demonstrations and rallies to perform intel rather than to keep the peace.
But actions taken during Occupy Wall Street show that the PD's agenda usually means treating protesters (as well as anyone with a camera) as criminals. And attempting to "unmask" participants in an Anonymous rally lumps all attendees in with the activist group, even if many of them have never actively participated in any illegal activities. It also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Anonymous' "structure," i.e., there is none. There's no "head" to capture and mount on the metaphorical wall. There's also no "tail" to drag off to HQ and sweat down in hopes of it offering up higher-ranked members.
While it's true that you may find some criminals within the ranks of protesters for any cause, heading into protests with the intent of compiling a "To Arrest" list puts police officers into entirely the wrong mindset. There's enough "us vs. them" attitude floating around already. This simply creates an antagonism that skews the perception of every witnessed activity. Peaceful protests are now just riots waiting to happen. It's not people united for a single cause, it's a hive mind operating under a devious directive. The whole thing is unhealthy for both the police and the public.
Also worth noting is the fact that this occurred before the Occupy protests, when Anonymous targeted the NYPD for its acts of brutality against the protesters, meaning this attempt to unmask members wasn't a retaliatory act (which isn't OK but is at least a rationale) or an attempt to find those who made threats against the department.
That being said, the surveillance request (what there is of it) contains the following sentence, which is notable both for a.) the inventive disgustingness of the act and b.) not being accompanied by a drunk and disorderly citation.
Most recently, a member ran into the church covered in vaseline and pubic hairs.
Most notably, there's no reason given for the surveillance unless you count Vaseline Man as a valid impetus. The entire form is almost completely blank, giving the whole thing an appearance of "just because." Maybe the NYPD felt No One's Personal Army posed a threat to Mayor Bloomberg's Personal Army. Or maybe the Church of Scientology wields just as much power as people attribute to it.
For faith-based hilarity, you just can't do any better than the Church of Scientology. These photoshop masters have built for themselves the kind of reputation normally reserved for Stasi-style secret police. The constant target of Anonymous, ex-members, and every critical-thinking person on the planet are best known for gobbling up shallow celebrities, creepily persecuting critics and ex-members, and possessing the monumental testicles required to include a freaking space opera in their faith. As part of their attempts to silence critics, they've regularly run up against the wider internet, often using IP laws to gag speech.
Well, it turns out you just can't teach a kinda-old non-religion religion new tricks. Reader John alerts us to a case in which the Church of Scientology is using copyright, trademark and cyberbullying laws to silence a parody criticizing the "church", Will Smith, and the attempt to destroy film making commonly known as After Earth. Recently, they demanded that GoDaddy nix cheerupwillsmith.com, which parodied the church and the film, over the use of their logos, a letter from church-leader David Miscavige, a photo of the same Miscavige, and a parody portrayal of Mr. Miscavige.
Pointing to the presence of CSI logos and a photograph of Mr. Miscavige on the site, CSI told GoDaddy the site violated CSI’s copyright and trademark rights, and asked the company to take it down. GoDaddy promptly complied. CSI also claimed that the creators of the site had violated California Penal Code section 528.5, which forbids the credible impersonation of a human person online. Section 528.5 was intended to be used to combat cyberbullying; as we anticipated, however, it’s now being used to target political speech.
As the EFF notes while placing the Church of Scientology on their takedown hall of shame list, we have some major problems here. First, the copyright claim fails on the grounds of fair use, since the use was critical parody, with only the necessary usage used therein. The trademark claim is also pitiful for many of the same reasons, though we can add that the website was not attempting to compete in the market of religion with the "church." As for the penal code claim, it is true that that law was meant to combat cyberbullying, but I think the EFF might be off when they say:
Finally, the claim that the site violated the California Penal Code is equally absurd. Section 528.5 applies only to "credible" impersonations. No viewer would think the site offered a credible impersonation of Mr. Miscavige.
Au contraire, bonjour. Given the absurdity of the actions by these clowns, it would take a great deal to convince me of anything in which they are not capable. However, I don't think their own depravity is reason for which they could be charged with cyberbullying.
So congratulations, Scientologists. You've now made the EFF hall of shame. And if you don't like how you're portrayed there or here, you can go audit yourselves.
The universe has a sense of humor. I'm convinced of it. See, as someone who believes that humor is a wonderful way to deal with otherwise disheartening topics, I'm amazed at how often the world around me will give me something to laugh at when I'm feeling blue. Take the world's current climate on the topic of religion, for instance. It'd be very easy to get down in the dumps over the Westboro Baptist Church, religious fundamentalists engaging in acts of terror, and the never-ending saga known as the Middle East "peace" process. None of those things are laughing matters. But then, reading the forlorn expression on my face, the universe sends me another story from the Church of Scientology.
The crowd was around 450-750 people. But the church claims it was more like 2,500, and it Photoshopped in the proof. Except the proof is about as convincing as your thetan's origin story. In reality, there were no people in the right-hand side of the photo. There was actually a line of rented trees set up to block the view of people not so friendly to Scientology (see the photo below), as well as police blocking off a four-block radius for the event. And it's not just that the picture was doctored, it's that it was done quite poorly. They added people right on top of the trees in the altered section.
Tony Ortega has the two photos that demonstrate this. First was the "official" photo from the Church which is clearly photoshopped.
And then a shot from a different angle showing that the people on the right section above aren't actually there.
What was an attempt to make turnout of the "event" look bigger than it was resulted in, at best, Scientology looking silly yet again for their combination of secretiveness and lying about their own events. Or, at worst, it suggests that Scientology turns human beings into a kind of hybrid tree-people, in which case we're all going to be subject to an aphid plague that may undo all of humanity. Ahhhh!
So a word of friendly advice to my Scientologist friends: brainwashed graphic designers are a better asset than brainwashed Tom Cruises. For ever and ever. Amen.
There's been an uproar about The Atlantic's decision yesterday to run sponsored content from Scientology, which consisted of a pretty poorly done advertorial about Scientology's "successes" in the past year. The comments on the piece included a bunch of "wow this is just awesome!" type comments that suggest both moderation and pre-planned comments from supporters. After widespread outcry about The Atlantic going in such a direction, the piece was pulled. Recently, there's also been similar (though slightly different) "sponsored" posts on Buzzfeed, in which staff plaster some company's name over a "top 10" or "top 15" list that they slap together -- often by pulling images from other sources (Reddit is a popular one), without making much effort to credit whoever came up with the content. There's even been a fair bit of controversy over the Associated Press' recent decision to allow sponsored tweets from Samsung during CES.
All of these seem like examples of doing "sponsored content" badly -- just as more and more publications are getting into sponsored content. While it's good to see publications taking some risks and trying something new, the downside is that it has the potential to completely scare off companies from doing any forms of sponsored content, even when it can be done much better. For many, many years, we've talked about how how content is advertising and advertising is content, and those who get it right are going to go far. The problem is that it's tough to get right -- often because the marketers themselves are so focused on old school "advertising" in which they have to keep pushing their message and their message alone, they miss out on the fact that this backfires in a big bad way every single time.
There's been a lot of talk lately about "native advertising" -- which is the buzzphrase around this kind of content these days. Many point out that "advertorial" is nothing new, and that's accurate, but true native content is something different. For years, when we've talked about these concepts, everyone has complained about said "advertorial", suggesting that it's annoying or misleading -- and that's been the problem with the examples above. But, when done right, it doesn't need to be either annoying or misleading. And we need to get to that point. Five years ago we put forth some basic concepts for why the world needed to move towards this model, and I still think they hold true today:
The captive audience is dead. There is no captive audience online. Everyone surfing the web has billions of choices on what they can be viewing, and they don't want to be viewing intrusive and annoying ads. They'll either ignore them, block them or go elsewhere.
Advertising is content. You can't think of ads as separate things any more. Without a captive audience, there's no such thing as "advertising" any more. It's just content. And it needs to be good/interesting/relevant content if you want to get anyone to pay attention to it.
Content is advertising. Might sound like a repeat of the point above, and in some ways it is -- but it's highlighting the flip side. Any content is advertising. It's advertising something. Techdirt content "advertises" our business even if you don't realize it. Every bit of content advertises something, whether on purpose or not.
Content needs to be useful/engaging/interesting. This simply ties all of that together. If you want anyone to pay attention to your content (which is advertising something, whether on purpose or not) it needs to be compelling and engaging.
The problem is that many marketers (and many publications) seem to really miss out on that last point. The content -- whether it's advertising, native content, advertorial or whatever -- needs to be useful/engaging/interesting. The Scientology advertorial and the AP sponsored tweets really fell down on that point. The Buzzfeed content at least got much of that aspect correct, but fell down on the kinds of things that often piss people off: poorly attributed copied content. There's no reason why Buzzfeed couldn't have done such a collection with proper attribution and most of the controversy would have been avoided.
And that's the real point here: it is possible to do "sponsored content" in a compelling way. I still like to point to the example that we did a few years back with UPS sponsoring us to do some videos about the topics we already talk about, leading to things like the following video about the economics of abundance:
When we posted that we were actually surprised (but thrilled) to find out that many in our community were happy to see projects like that move forward. That was because it was about creating useful and engaging content that wasn't misleading or just pure propaganda.
The world will get there eventually, but it's an ongoing struggle to get both publications and marketers to realize that "native advertising" isn't native if the content sucks and no one wants to see it (especially if it's pure propaganda, or otherwise enrages people). Some continue to insist that any and all such sponsored content is, by definition, problematic, but I don't think it needs to be. It's just that we need to get people in marketing firms and at publications to move past such a view of native advertising. The Atlantic should have known ahead of time how people would react. Buzzfeed should have made sure its content didn't set off a firestorm. And the companies paying for such ads should also learn that if they're just creating annoying content, it's not helping anyone, least of all themselves.
For the most part, the US has recognized that the right to be anonymous is a form of protected free speech -- and yet, anonymity is constantly under attack. Of course, the right to be anonymous is not absolute, but there is value in allowing anonymous speech to occur. With the right to anonymity under attack in the US, it's even worse in other countries, where such rights aren't even seen as vital as it is in the US. China, for example, is now requiring news websites to force all commenters to reveal their real identity. Apparently, the government issued a directive demanding such info from all commenters, though, they don't want to admit it. Even though the newspapers are claiming that they're doing it to increase "civility" and "social responsibility," quietly they admit that it's the government. As for why the gov't won't just come out and say it's for civility and social responsibility (even if it's to quiet critics), apparently the government is afraid of public backlash:
"The influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big."
I guess that's why the idea is to silence them.
Meanwhile, as reports came in last week suggesting that Australia's latest plan to censor the internet is just about dead, Slashdot notes that Scientologists down under are asking the Australian gov't to implement severe restrictions on what they refer to as "Religious Vilification" (which, one assumes, means any anti-Scientology comments, among other things). The proposal also suggests that any such site should not be allowed to be operated anonymously. Apparently, Scientologists took the name of the group "Anonymous" that organized protests against the group quite literally.
While I can sympathize with the concerns that some folks have over Scientology, it did seem like the massive denial of service (DoS) attack against the group put on by "Anonymous" (basically a group of griefers from some online message boards) seemed to go a bit too far (and, yes, I recognize that many griefers think that their whole reason for being is to "go too far"). Now it appears that one of the kids involved in the denial of service attack has been arrested and agreed to plead guilty for the attack, meaning that at least some members of "Anonymous" aren't quite as anonymous as they believed. In the end, the whole thing seems to have done nothing much. It was a nuisance for Scientology, but allowed the group to portray itself as a victim, and certainly didn't do much of anything to slow the organization down.
The Church of Scientology is rather notorious for its heavy-handed responses to any critics -- often using copyright claims to stop them from criticizing the organization. The latest is that the EFF is reporting that over 4,000 critical videos have been taken down off of YouTube due to DMCA takedown notices issued by an organization named American Rights Counsel, LLC. Many of the folks who created the videos are immediately filing DMCA counter-notices, meaning that some of the videos are already back up, but it will be interesting to see where this goes.
The EFF hasn't been shy in the past in filing lawsuits against those who issue bogus DMCA takedown notices -- so if it turns out that these are bogus, then expect some lawsuits. In the meantime, it really does make you wonder what whoever issued the takedowns was thinking. This action will only serve to get a lot more attention directed at the critical videos, rather than do anything to silence them.
A couple months ago, in discussing The Streisand Effect with a reporter, the reporter asked if I thought lawyers would one day be accused of malpractice for not informing their clients of the potential implications of demanding some content be pulled off the internet. While I doubt it will reach the point of malpractice, it certainly does make you wonder what some lawyers are thinking when there are such clear examples of what happens when you try to suppress material online. Earlier this year, the lawsuit that brought plenty of new attention to the concept of The Streisand Effect was when a Swiss bank, Julius Baer, convinced a judge to shut down the site Wikileaks for hosting some documents related to a lawsuit Julius Baer was involved in. Of course, not surprisingly, the attempt to shut down Wikileaks got those documents much more attention (and did the same for Wikileaks as well). Eventually, the judge reversed the order and Julius Baer dropped the lawsuit. But the end result showed how badly the strategy backfired on Julius Baer. Before it demanded the documents be taken down, almost no one saw the documents or even knew that the bank was involved in a case that accused of it laundering money. Afterwards, a lot more people knew about the lawsuit and had seen the documents -- and they were still online.
That situation got so much publicity, you would think that anyone would think twice about going down the same path. No such luck. Last month, Scientology threatened Wikileaks for hosting Scientology documents, and this morning (as a whole bunch of folks have sent in) news is coming out that the Mormon Church is threatening Wikileaks as well, for hosting church documents. In this case, the Mormon Church isn't just going after Wikileaks, but also threatened the WikiMedia foundation and document hosting site Scribd. It went after WikiMedia because WikiNews ran an article about the document and linked to them (which is hardly copyright infringement). Scribd was apparently hosting a copy of the documents as well (since taken down). Wikileaks, however, true to its charter, is refusing to take down the documents.
While you can understand why the Church might not like it's documents being made public, it does seem ridiculous that whoever decided to start threatening everyone didn't do the most basic research to recognize what would happen as soon as they threatened sites. Given what happened with Julius Baer, it should have been abundantly clear that threatening Wikileaks would almost guarantee that the documents were both more widely seen than before and copied widely across the internet.