We all know Scientology is a cult. But Facebook, everyone’s favorite social network, has plenty of cultish qualities too. After all, the amount of control and personal information we relinquish to Facebook goes way beyond any confidential tidbits John Travolta reveals during the church’s regular “auditing” interviews.
Think of the cult similarities between Facebook and Scientology: Both have a strong, authoritative leader (Zuckerberg/L. Ron Hubbard) who came to power via questionable means (See The Social Network/The Master for reference). And both Facebook and Scientology have Tom Cruise as a member—coincidence, or something more?
1. The Contract
2. Complete Surveillance of All Activities
Many former members of Scientology claimed they felt brainwashed, like a robot for the church living in an Orwellian nightmare, with all their moves monitored by the higher-ups within the group. Scientology dissidents, such as L. Ron Hubbard’s great grandson, have often been trailed by thugs associated with the church.
Facebook also welcomes you to 1984. Think of Facebook Location Tracking as an NSA Santa Claus; it sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake. More specifically, it knows what bar you’re at, and the name of the restaurant where you just had dinner. You’ve volunteered to have Big Brother—or potential stalkers—watch over you and all your friends, feeding them constant updates about where you are and what you are doing. Better yet, Facebook will bombard you with ads for nearby establishments by tracking your location (which it euphemistically calls “building a history”). Facebook explains that you can turn this tracking off, but “Location History” must be turned on for some location features to work, including Nearby Friends. You can run but you can’t hide!
3. Personal Files
When actress Leah Remini left the Church of Scientology in 2013, her biggest fear was being blackmailed by personal confessions she made during “audit” sessions; she feared her confidential files would go public and ruin her life. Facebook users are much more gullible than Scientologists. They don’t require an “audit” session to disclose intimate personal information; they freely post it on their own, which has sometimes ended up ruining their offline lives.
Take the Idaho schoolteacher who was fired after posting a humorous photo on Facebook of her finance’s hand on top of her swimsuit. Or the Ohio waitress who was canned after complaining about bad tips. You could also be given the sack if a friend happens to post those drunken party pics from Cabo—and tags you in the post. Or if that photo of you sucking on a bong, which you thought was deleted, happens to surface. Facebook is more effective than a Scientology auditing session; it allows people to wreck their own lives by practicing the First Amendment.
4. Facebook Owns You!
Sure, Scientology has dirt on John Travolta and his various romps with gay porn stars that could be detrimental to his sagging career (or helpful, at this stage), which prevents him from ever leaving the cult. Facebook, on the other hand, owns your ass! Did you bother to read its copyright notice when you signed up? These are the rules you agree to play by so long as you use Facebook. Chances are you didn’t bother reading these either, so read along with me:
“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.
When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).”
So if you’re a professional photographer and post your images on Facebook, Facebook now has the right to use those images. Same with your party photos from your cousin’s bat mitzvah. Facebook can use those too, and even put out a book called, Your Cousin’s Bat Mitzvah Photos.
Facebook also has access to all your personal information, and most people willingly provide it. Facebook knows where you went to school, who you’re dating, your birthday, even your phone number. Good thing Facebook, unlike Scientology, is not run by an evil overlord from the Planet Xenu who wants to ruin your life.
5. No One Will Hear Your Complaints
Scientology has a reputation for hostile action toward anyone who criticizes it in a public forum; executives within the organization have proclaimed that Scientology is “not a turn-the-other-cheek” religion. Hubbard Church policy letter states, “Don’t ever tamely submit to an investigation of us. Make it rough, rough on attackers all the way.” And that tactic helps keep the Scientology brand intact.
Facebook has a more ingenious method for dealing with criticism: As long as you are a member of the cult of Facebook, – you will have no one to turn to if you want to voice a grievance over, say, an ex-boyfriend or stalker posting incriminating photos of you. Sure there’s a phone number offered (650-543-4800) but good luck with that; if you press the prompt you’ll be told that Facebook doesn’t offer phone support.
Or better yet, send your complaint to the Facebook Help Desk. It might be a long shot, but remember, until Facebook’s policies change, it will also own the full text of your complaint.
6. You Allow People to Stalk You on Facebook
Scientology is a secret sect, closed off from the rest of society. Though this veil of secrecy is troubling in its own right, at least members’ private information is only available to other members of the organization. In fact, if you leave the Church of Scientology, members will practice “disconnection,” which strongly discourages them from associating with “enemies of Scientology,” further keeping the lives of members secret from outsiders.
Facebook, on the other hand, is a stalker’s wet dream. Statistics show that 28 percent of Facebook profiles are set as “visible to the public,” meaning anyone can access them, becoming privy to information such as a status update about your engagement being broken off or a selfie showing your 30-pound weight gain. Once you “friend” a person, they gain access to a plethora of random information about your life. A recent study suggested that romantic partners (or hopefuls) Facebook stalk because of “relational uncertainty,” noting that checking up on someone’s Facebook activity is a way we monitor and gather information about potential significant others (or victims).
What if your stalker’s drunken messages become increasingly disturbing? You can block him or her. Or delete your Facebook account. Or complain to Facebook…OK, nix that last idea.
7. You Are One Big Market Research Project
Scientology uses an E-meter. It claims that this lie detector device can examine a person’s mental state and “see a thought,” like some sort of mind-reading market research contraption of tomorrow. Using a trained auditor, Scientology believes it can uncover “hidden crimes.”
Facebook has something better than the E-meter: the capacity to mine all your personal data and sell it to marketing companies. Come on, did you think this free account was actually “free”? Everything has a price, and Facebook’s is targeted advertising. The scope of this brokering of information is on par with the NSA’s, and yet it is almost entirely unregulated.
8. Impossible To Completely Leave the Organization
Much like Scientology, the cult of Facebook makes it tough for members to leave. Until 2007, Facebook never completely deleted a user’s information—even when it deleted an account. The status was more like suspending an account, which meant a user could get her account and all the information back anytime if she decided to rejoin.
In 2008, the social media giant introduced an option to permanently delete the account, though a Facebook member has to be sure not only to deactivate his or her account but also check other preferences to make sure the account is completely deleted. Still, all those photos that were tagged on other peoples’ pages will live on—and Facebook will retain the right to use them as it pleases. Also, much like Scientology, other members will ostracize you when you quit Facebook; you will be left out of the social loop— which will force you to go out into the real world and make real friends. The horror!
If you do happen to break away from Facebook and feel lost with nowhere to go, there’s one group you can turn to that has a social network based on the Planet Xenu. It’s called Scientology, and it wants to be your friend.