Over the weekend, prominent placement on Wikipedia’s main page launched a nearly twenty-year-old Time magazine article about Scientology onto the Time site’s “most-read” list. The jump in traffic reveals both the continued popularity of Scientology-related reporting and the power of Wikipedia to bring obscure or old stories to the forefront of Internet discussion.
Richard Behar’s “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” originally published in May of 1991, saw skyrocketing traffic this weekend after the story got a link on Wikipedia’s main page. When originally published, the story made a huge splash — the church sued him for $400 million in libel damages, and Time fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Scientology generates fervent reader interest on the Internet. In 2009, Wikipedia banned Scientologists and some of the church’s most vocal critics from editing the “Scientology” entry on its Web page. Internet-based group Anonymous has been waging online attacks and real-life protests against the church for several years now.
The recent bump in traffic to Behar’s article reflects the power of the Wikipedia home page in driving reader interest. Before Wikipedia linked to the article, it was the 22nd most popular article on Time.com. After the link, it was the 2nd most popular.
Ongoing reader interest in Scientology may have something to do with the Church’s aggressive media strategy, which has included lawsuits against its critics and paying journalists large sums to respond to media criticism.
Scientology has recently made headlines for paid three investigative journalists $5,000 each to examine The St. Petersburg Times, whose reporting has for decades been a thorn in the church’s side. On March 6, The New York Times published a front-page article in which two former Scientology employees described abusive working conditions at the church. A member of the Church of Scientology responded several days later in a letter to the editor.