“Information is the fuel we use to keep our minds working properly. Deny a person the information he requires to make sound judgements, and he will be incapable of doing so.” – Steven Hassan.
People can find themselves trapped by destructive cults because they are denied access to critical information and because they lack ability to process internally the information they do get. In totalistic groups members are kept too busy in their daily life and have very little or no free time. To keep members “focused on the group”, they are granted minimal access to non-cult related newspapers, magazines, TV, (internet), or radio; what they do get is carefully censored.
Information control also includes members and the relationships between members within the group. People are not allowed to speak to each other about anything critical of the group, leader, or doctrine. Members are encouraged to spy on each other and report to leaders on questionable comments or activities of other members. New member aren’t permitted to talk to each other without an experienced member present.
Information can be compartmentalized within such groups to keep members from knowing a “big picture” up front. In larger groups information can be based on a “need to know” basis and then only when it is needed to perform assigned tasks. Members are often led to believe they know more about the inside workings of a group than outsiders do, but Steven Hassan said that when performing exit counseling, he often found members knew the least about their groups.
Letters and phone calls may be screened; and members are advised to avoid all contact with non-members, anyone critical of the group, and ex-members, especially ex-members who can provide the most critical information. Information control also includes different levels of “truth”; there is usually an “insider’s doctrine” and an “outsider’s doctrine” with the “outsider’s doctrine” being much less interesting compared to the “insider’s doctrine”.
The inside doctrine also tends to be slowly revealed over time and only as a person becomes more deeply involved in the group. Members believe sincerely that “outer doctrines” are not a “lie”; they are considered a different level of “truth” (perhaps simplified or abbreviated). Groups with several levels of “truth” in the environment make it impossible for members to make any objective assessments about the group’s “truth”.
Members that have problems with the doctrine, question too much, or resist can be strung along by the leaders by being told they are “not mature enough to know the whole truth yet”, and “it will all become clear over time”. Such members can be told “if you work hard enough you will earn the right to learn the higher levels of truth”. There are usually so many “inner levels” of “truth” that even advanced members are many levels away from the real center.
Those who question too much, or demand knowledge too fast, can be redirected elsewhere until they forget their objections. Behavior, thought, emotion, and information control each has such a great power and influence over the human mind, they can make the most intelligent, strongest-willed people into the most supportive, most enthusiastic cult followers. Such groups do this by using a member’s intelligence against them; “you could never be taken in by a cult, you are way too smart for that sort of thing, aren’t you?”
The Delphi Forums server is designed to make control of information incredibly easy for forum owners. Forum owners have access to forum controls, and can share forum control with other members. They can invite other members of Delphi into the forum, or remove them and block their access to the forum and the chat rooms. They and their staff members can control access to specific folders, move threads from public to private folders, and control access to edit buttons.
Forum owners and their staff can turn chat room logging on and create a record of the conversations that take place in the chat rooms. Originally, anyone who attended a chat could get access to such a chat record, but Delphi decided that this would be a matter of forum owner’s discretion so only forum owners and their staff could obtain and share such recorded logs. Only forum owners and Assistants could move a forum from public to private or moderated status.
Only owners can delete the forum entirely. Compartmentalizing information became very easy when Delphi created the ability to make individual message board folders private. Each forum could have up to 16 folders. Any of them could be private with access granted on an individual basis. Depending on the privileges granted to an individual, a member may be permitted to read only, post but have it screened, post and be able to edit; and delete their own posts.
Forum owners and their staff could do all of that plus move public folder posts or threads to private folders and deny access to their original authors. Forum owners and staff could also control whether other members could speak in chat rooms and could remove and block unwanted visitors either to the forum or to the chat room. In short, open forums were public, unmoderated, with 16 openly accessible folders, with all members granted an edit button.
Generally, the only forums that meet that description on the server are the forums that were public when a forum owner’s membership expired and was not renewed and the forum owner left the server. Forum owner membership expiration means a loss of access to a forum’s controls. Most forum owners who know they will not renew will set their forums to private, and set all 16 folders private. They may also remove all member access; this is called “mothballing”.
If a forum was taken private and a member permitted to keep access, it tended to look no different to them. If a forum was taken private and their access removed; the forum would vanish from their saved favorite forums list. If a forum was deleted, the name of the forum would remain but be denoted “closed” (and some forum owners got clever and would fake a forum closing by adding it to the name of the forum).
So how did information control work on a server like Delphi? Access to information was absolutely a matter of “You don’t know what you don’t know”. Everything you were led to believe about any situation largely depended on how much or how little access you had to where it happened. Very often a situation would occur simultaneously in multiple forums, and threads would be pulled from public forums to private folders by the owners and staff of those forums.
Information depended solely on your relationship with each individual forum owner and faction, or at least a staff member who could be coaxed into either getting you a copy of something, or into granting you temporary access to a private folder so you could get your own copy. Trusting the word of a friend or an associate in Delphi was extremely risky; this was true even when they were members of your own faction. Anyone could be turned against you, but usually stories omitted details that made the teller look bad.
You could be manipulated into turning against anyone else. There were instances when you could not be sure of whom you were really talking to because members might be sharing profiles (even though this was a Delphi Forums TOS violation). Sometimes, Delphi’s own forum staff would get involved on behalf of one faction, to sabotage trust within another faction. The information itself could be manipulated; posts and chat logs could be edited; screen shots too.
If emotion control was the gun held invisibly to the heads and hearts of the members of the Delphi Forum’s Dark Forums, then information control was the countless rounds of ammunition; the bullets that would ricochet between them all, destroying trust, and trustworthiness; brutalizing respect, and self-respect; shattering the very meaning of decency and integrity. It made otherwise good people do some seriously shitty and shameful things to each other.
Imagine you have some friends; Bill and Jill, Ted, Nan, and Penny; and then there’s a couple of people nobody’s friends with, Tom and Jerry; they talk a lot of crap about everybody and people tend to listen more than they should. Now, you know Bill and Jill pretty well, you’ve been friends for a long time, you know them offline, you all hang out at each other’s houses etc. And they know Ted, they used to be roommates back in the day. Bill and Jill also know Nan and Penny online for several years.
You don’t know Ted very well, but you do know him. You met Nan and Penny through Bill and Jill, and Nan is friendly but Penny…yeah not so much. Nan and Penny used to be friends with Ted, but they aren’t anymore, and in fact, Bill and Jill aren’t really supposed to be friends with Ted either, because of some past argument you told Bill and Jill to stay out of when they asked for advice, but they didn’t listen. So Ted is off doing his own thing, and you go say hi.
And Ted tells you to hit the road because he knows you’re friends with Bill and Jill and he’s still ticked off at them for their part in the argument with Nan and Penny. And especially since because of all of them, Tom and Jerry won’t quit with the gloating and taunting and its done gotten old. Tom and Jerry gloat and taunt Bill and Jill, Nan and Penny even more, but still, it was old three years ago and now it’s just boring. Ted has no interest in what you want you want to say.
And you are surprised by this and wonder what the hell happened that Ted would react like that, so you go to Bill and Jill, and they start explaining; so does Nan, but not Penny because you never see her around directly. And the stories are all kind of weird. It sounds like a lot of petty drama, jealousy, and people not getting what they wanted out of Ted; and mostly mad because Ted brought some new friends around and Penny really didn’t like the new friends.
So you say to Jill and Bill, “why don’t we just try to work things out between you all and Ted? Mediate the situation like grown adults?” And Jill starts telling you about how it’s a great idea but Penny will never go for it, because she doesn’t really like you, doesn’t think you are trustworthy, doesn’t really want to talk it out. And Nan takes it upon herself to start telling you all of the past gossip about people, “Delphi history lessons”, which is supposed to explain why mediation would never work out.
Things between you and Penny get steadily worse; she gets combative with you. Jill starts complaining to you about how Penny is getting mad at her because of you. And you start getting a little bit ticked because Jill says the complaint is that Jill won’t take Penny’s side against you. Jill thinks you and Penny should just work it out, but you and Penny are not on a schedule that allows you to be able to meet and converse very often.
When you do manage a meeting to discuss things, it is hostile. Penny is pissed about something and you get “confronted” about it until finally you start dreading so much as hearing her name, and when she storms in to yell at you, you stand up and yell back. And Jill won’t stand up for herself in any of this even after it becomes clear that some of Penny’s problem with you is because she thinks you are bullying Jill, but won’t explain where this idea comes from.
After a while, all you ever hear is “you don’t know all the facts”, and “get your facts straight!” so you start avoiding her. Jill complains to you about Penny in notes, and you commiserate; but somehow Penny gets copies of your notes. Jill claims she doesn’t know how this keeps occurring. She shows you recorded chat conversations where Penny says negative things about you and now you really know you don’t like her; and you also wonder why Jill passed it on.
And then out of the blue, some dude you don’t even know but he has a really bad reputation in town shows up, and he hands you screen shots of Jill and Penny in a chat talking about you. It’s from the same chat Jill already showed you, but there’s several sentences where Jill is telling Penny that you are bullying her, but that’s weird because they aren’t in the other chat log, and who is this dude giving you these screen shots anyway? Nan says they look forged.
And this goes on for two long years; during which time Bill and Jill and Ted have sort of worked some things out and renewed their friendship, you and Ted have renewed your friendship as well and are getting along famously, Nan is polite but distant and Penny is rude and confrontational toward you and Ted, but otherwise makes a show of having Bill and Jill’s back. In the background is of course, Tom and Jerry, and now Penny has decided to go play nice with them.
Now Jill is disclosing more and more private communication between herself and Penny, and Penny seems to be getting less and less in the way of your own private messages, but you are still finding yourself getting berated for not having your “facts straight!” Someone is still giving her private conversation content and at this point you are a bit tired of feeling like you have to watch what you say in your own private folder in your own forum.
You also get tired of everyone else delivering everything Penny, and now Tom and Jerry too, has to say about you, to you, like a newspaper subscription. Jill is now upset because Penny and now Nan have taken to hanging out with Tom and Jerry, even though she is a favorite target of their abuse. This is because you, Jill, and Bill are back to being friends with Ted. You have been sensing something strange about the information routes and channels, and you come up with a plan of your own.
You start a communications tool, a weblog; and start discussing the things you had been told about the community and its members; when, where, who, how, and why; after all, if you “don’t have your facts straight”, and you are being told to “get your facts straight!” Then you should probably do your best to see to that, right? You don’t say anything right away; you tell Ted though; and Jerry stumbles across it, thinks it’s hilarious and stays quiet for a while.
But not for long because it occurs to Jerry that if Penny finds out Jerry knew about it and didn’t warn her, Penny would be all over Jerry’s case next. Jerry tells Penny and Nan and then the whole “community” explodes in a massive, multiple forum wide meltdown; because it becomes clear what has been going on. Bill and Jill split the community and don’t bother leaving a forwarding address. And Penny and Nan come forward to discuss what they had been told.
It turns out Jill was telling them all quite a story about you, but they knew this was typical of her and went along with it. You find out that Nan lied about the screen shots that stranger of ill repute had passed to you the year before. Penny shows you the original, unaltered chat log and you realize that Jill, the one you knew offline, in fact, was pretty much one of your best friends, had been instigating both you and Penny into conflict against each other deliberately, and the both of you against other people, deliberately, for years.
You and Ted find out from Penny and Nan that Jill had been doing this all along, for many reasons, not the least of which was that the information control and emotion control had affected her thinking and behavior to such a degree that she felt she had play “The Delphi Game” as a matter of self-defense. Bill had simply followed Jill’s lead; loyally and without question. Jill had been subjected to a great deal of abuse from Tom and Jerry; they all had. Tom and Jerry had been training them carefully for this.
Tom and Jerry used information control, emotion control, thought, and behavior control to pit people against each other on the server for so long that nobody trusted anyone anymore. They instigated certain individuals into turning others against Ted; and Jill got caught in the middle of Penny and Ted; and others over the years that eventually she learned to play them all against each other as a means of passive-aggressive revenge; it kept them all off-balance.
Information was used to control people through their emotions and thoughts, which then informed their behaviors. The server itself made it easy; but information is easy to stovepipe anywhere, online, offline, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is who controls the information, and who orchestrates the narrative; that controls the rhetoric. Who has the most information conduits; who has the most plausible story and the most trustworthy looking face.
“Information is the fuel we use to keep our minds working properly. Deny a person the information he requires to make sound judgements, and he will be incapable of doing so.”
On all levels, from the individual to any kind of group, online or offline, all the way up to nation states. Deny a person the information he requires to make sound judgments and he fails; utterly. He takes what he can find and if its wrong so is he. Depending on his choice of narrative, world view and rhetoric, he may murder others in the process of that failure, or just himself.
Next is a discussion of the three-step process to gaining control and how it works with the four components of mind control. Thanks for reading.
***This is part 15 of a series of posts on cults and cult indoctrination online. It will focus on the book that played such an integral role in ending the indoctrination process on the Delphi Forums server; Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan. This series will be heavily revised and updated; the purpose is to show that Delphi is not unique.
The same process occurs elsewhere on the internet; Al-Qaeda and Islamic State did not invent it; they did not even innovate it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, none of these sites were first to find themselves the vehicles of fake news, propaganda, or truth decay. There are much bigger cults out in the world; awareness is key to stopping the cycles.