HBO premiered the Alex Gibney Scientology documentary “Going Clear” last night. It airs many more times on various HBO channels through April and on their on-demand service – I encourage you to check it out. It is based on the 2013 book of the same name by Lawrence Wright, which detailed many abuses that have gone on in the church. Both the book and the documentary feature damning testimony by many ex-members of the church, some of whom had very high ranking positions.
The church itself, needless to say, is not amused. In typical fashion it has waged a PR war against the film, starting with an expensive full-page ad in the New York Times on January 16. It has continued its assault with a series of articles printed in their own “Freedom Magazine”. (The material there largely consists of a series of ad hominem attacks on the former Scientologists interviewed in the film).
But how is the church expecting any of this additional material to be seen by the general public? Freedom Magazine is not well known outside church circles, and the New York Times ad has not repeated. Who is going to bother to go to this obscure website to read these attacks?
The answer is in online advertising. How the church is using online ads may have some interesting lessons for skeptics.
Morning Toolbox is a daily digest of interesting tools and techniques that skeptics can use online.
I’ve talked about fake online reviews on Virtual Skeptics once or twice. Yelp is trying to clamp down on this, they are putting red ‘consumer alert’ banners on businesses they detect doing it. Here’s a project for skeptics: scan the site for pseudoscience and paranormal businesses that have earned one of these.
Read on for more about online skeptic tools…
Yesterday Slate posted a piece by Evgeny Morozov that asked the question, “Does Google have a responsibility to help stop the spread of 9/11 denialism, anti-vaccine activism, and other fringe beliefs?” On its face it is an interesting question, one that goes right to the heart of what this blog is about. But except for a one nugget of wisdom which I applaud, the bulk of the article reveals the author’s naivete about matters skeptics deal with every day.
The article comments on a peer reviewed paper in Vaccine that analyzes the “tactics and tropes” of the anti-vaccine movement. Unfortunately I don’t have access to that journal to comment on the paper directly. But I can say the author of the Slate article could have avoided some pitfalls had he availed himself of the large body of skeptic literature in addition to that one paper.
News flash: we’ve been fighting these battles for decades, and are well familiar with the tactics listed. We’ve even been going head-to-head with these communities in Google and on Twitter and in the rest of Web 2.0, using the very same techniques. The evidence easy to find in Google, I’m not sure why Morozov can’t see it.
In the rest of this article I’ll point out how the piece’s proposed solution lacks vision, and suggest some other avenues that don’t require Google to get involved.
The reason that Google is taking over the known universe (instead of Skynet) has a great deal to do with their inventions in the areas of advertising. They have a stable of advertising products with spiffy names like AdWords and AdSense. Millions of dollars flow through these programs every month. The ads sometimes seem ubiquitous.
Advertising on skeptic websites can present interesting problems. In order to understand why this is, you need to understand how contextual ad placing works, and how that interacts with what we do. Read on.