When the internet started being used by kids all around the country, there was one site that we all needed to visit. Neopets was the most important website on the internet if you were between the ages of 10-13. It was every middle school kids most important obsession, other than their beanie babies, but somehow these virtual pets felt more real than our tangible toys.
You would pick a creature, name it, feed it, play with it, and take it on adventures every single day. You would spin a wheel, helping you collect neopoints, and you could use those points to buy all the necessities for your little pet.
The game it self isn't complicated, it's pretty easy to understand (especially because chances are we've all played it). The thing is, people are currently freaking out because of a new report that has been "ruining childhoods" all week, that has changed a lot of our views on the website.
The problem people are having is that the Neopets website was actually created and run by Scientologists, using methods developed by the church.
The religion is always a hot button issue when it comes up. There are a lot of celebrities who take part in the Scientologist religion, but even still it remains a controversial topic. Now that we've learned that the website we spent our entire childhood on was actually run based on Scientology, we are left feeling a little bit stunned.
Yeah. That's right. Our precious Neopets were using the business model designed by Scientologists and apparently "the model is less ethical than it appears."
Here's how it affected the world of Neopia...
The website was designed under the "Org Board Method," which was developed by Scientologists to help them run businesses. The church claims that Org Board is based on practices from "80 trilion years ago" that were used by "old galactic civilizations" and have been updated by Scientologist founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Similarly to the rest of Scientology, a lot of the details are kept private until you go further into the organization, but basically Org Board separates organizations into seven divisions to create a "cycle of production" that mimics the church's "cycle of action."
While on the surface that may not seem that bad, a human rights professor from Harvard named Patricia Illingworth pointed out that there was a lot going on behind the scenes. The Outline reported that apparently employees were required to "essentially spy on other employees and share any and all 'pertinent' information with executives."
“If someone in or outside the organization has done something that undercuts the mission of the organization, which is basically making money, then the organization, in the name of ethics, is advised to retaliate against the person in order to ensure that they don’t do it," Illingworth said.
Neopets was created by Adam Powell and Donna Williams, but as the company grew and needed investors, Doug Dohring was brought on. He was the one who brought the Org Board Method.
In an interview with WISE, Dohring was quoted as admitting that he employed this technique. “As a business executive I have enjoyed many successes thanks to my knowledge and use of L. Ron Hubbard’s administrative technology. Having used his technology in every business activity for nearly two decades now, Mr. Hubbard’s organizational concepts are always with me to the point where virtually every aspect of running my companies involves the use of his administrative technology."
But this model was problematic at best.
“The model suggests that employees be treated in ways very similar to those proposed by Scientology’s organizational model. Today, we think employees should be treated well, with respect, and not made to suffer harsh consequences when they act in ways that are not strictly in the interest of the company.
The idea that an organization should fire employees for having views that are different from those of the organization is morally disconcerting even when we don’t share the views, or we are adamantly against them," Illingworth explained.
In 2014, co-creator Donna Williams actually discussed these allegations
During a Reddit AMA, the co-creator was asked about their CEO's connections to the church and she was honest about it.
“We were not aware of it at first as we were totally naive,” she said. “When we realized it was a bit of a shock. Somewhat awkward moment when you realize you started the biggest entertainment site visited by millions of children and teens, but the upper management you just signed the company over to are part of some weird religion that is banned in some countries…”
When discussing Org Board specifically, she said she only noticed a difference in certain situations.
“It didn't really change anything that I noticed apart from some odd test that interviewees had to take consisting of questions like ‘which straight line seemed friendlier’ and stuff like that.”
The two co-creators left their company after they sold it to Viacom, but before they did they noticed a few changes coming from their CEO.
“We found out about it about 6 months after we started working there and started googling all the employees and they were all Scientologists,” Powell said. “It was weird, we just didn’t mention it until they hired this lady who wanted to bring Scientology onto the site. We fought that as hard as we could and they got rid of her.”
It was when they started trying to put Scientology on the website itself that the founders knew they needed to shut that down.
“At one time there was some talk about putting Scientology education on the site, but we killed that idea pretty sharpish[sic]. Adam [Powell] and I made sure that it never made its way onto anything site related. Religion and politics were two big no nos for us as far as site content went. Can't say the discussions we had to keep it that way were much fun though!”
“A lot of employees were uncomfortable with the whole Scientology thing, especially since the test they gave to new employees had copyright L. Ron Hubbard at the bottom of each page," Powell said. “I think there was somewhat of a them vs. us feel to the office.”
Fans of the website have been pretty shocked to learn about this, even though the AMA happened four years ago. This report has people saying that they feel "betrayed," that their "childhoods are ruined," and that it feels as though "nothing online can be good or pure."
Dohring has since left the website, but he remains active in Scientology, donating $20 million to the church just last year. He has since launched another children's website called ABCMouse that teached young kids how to read and do math.