Church of Scientology editing on Wikipedia refers to a series of incidents that led in 2009 to Church of Scientology-owned networks being banned from making edits to Wikipedia articles relating to Scientology. The Church of Scientology has long had a controversial history on the Internet, and has initiated campaigns to manipulate material and remove information critical of itself from the web. From early in Wikipedia’s history, conflict arose within the topic of Scientology on the website. Disputes began in earnest in 2005, with users disagreeing about whether or not to describe Scientology as an abusive cult or religion. By 2006, disagreements concerning the topic of Scientology on Wikipedia had grown more specific. Wikipedia user and Scientology critic David Gerard commented to The Daily Telegraph in 2006 that some articles were neutral due to a requirement to reference stated facts.
Revelations from software produced by Virgil Griffith in 2007 called WikiScanner made public the nature of edits on Wikipedia which were able to be traced directly back to Church of Scientology-controlled computers. CBS News and The Independent reported that edits by the Church of Scientology were made in attempts to remove criticism from the main article on the topic. The Times and Forbes noted that Scientologist computers were used to remove links between the Church of Scientology and former anti-cult organization since taken over by Scientology, the Cult Awareness Network. Der Spiegel reported that Wikiscanner revealed Scientology computers were used to promote Scientology’s critical view of psychiatry, including adding links to the Scientology-founded Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and to websites of other groups affiliated with Scientology.
In January 2009, The Register reported on a case involving Scientology before Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee. The Arbitration Committee on Wikipedia is composed of a group of volunteers voted upon by other users in order to resolve conflict on the site. Wikipedia administrators presented evidence during the case that Scientology-controlled computers were used to promote the organization, using multiple user accounts. One user going by the pseudonym “COFS” admitted this pattern of editing, and stated the edits from Scientology computers would continue. In May 2009, the Arbitration Committee decided to restrict editing from IP addresses belonging to the Church of Scientology, to prevent biased edits by editors within Church of Scientology-administered networks. The decision accorded Scientology-controlled IP addresses the same blockable status as open proxies on the site. The committee concluded that both sides had “gamed policy” and resorted to “battlefield tactics”, with articles on living persons being the “worst casualties”.
Arbitration Committee member Roger Davies wrote the majority of the decision, and commented to The New York Times that due to the controversial nature of the case, the decision was crafted so as not to focus directly upon any particular individual. Wikipedia media contact Dan Rosenthal emphasized in a statement to ABC News that it was generally accepted procedure on the site to ban users that had violated policy intended to prevent them from promoting propaganda. Wikimedia Foundation spokesman and head of communications Jay Walsh said to Bloomberg BusinessWeek the Arbitration decision was intended to help restore Scientology-related articles to an acceptable state on the site. Wikimedia Germany spokesperson Catrin Schoneville stated to Computerwoche that the decision impacted the English Wikipedia, and noted it was unclear whether a similar ruling might be applied to the German Wikipedia. Statements from Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw labelled the Arbitration ruling as a routine matter, and maintained there were still “gross inaccuracies” on the article on Scientology. In a statement to CNN, Pouw denied the presence of an organized campaign by the Church of Scientology to manipulate Wikipedia. Scientology representative Tommy Davis emphasized to the St. Petersburg Times that users critical of the organization were also banned, and similarly denied that Scientology leadership arranged a campaign to manipulate entries on Wikipedia.