“The Cult member comes to live within a narrow corridor of fear, guilt, and shame. Problems are always the fault of the member, and are due to his weak faith, his lack of understanding, “bad ancestors”, evil spirits, and so forth. He perpetually feels guilty for not meeting standards. He comes to believe that “evil” is out to get him.”
“In every destructive cult I have encountered, fear is a major motivator. Each group has its devil lurking around the corner waiting for members to tempt and seduce, to kill or to drive insane. The more vivid and tangible a devil the group can conjure up, the more intense is the cohesiveness it fosters.”
In Delphi there was a carefully cultivated narrow corridor of fear, guilt, and shame on the server. Members came to fear privacy invasion; and the fear was justified. Conversations in post threads in private folders would get copied and carried off. So did chat logs from the forums or instant messengers. Members were effectively coerced into keeping chat and IM logs in order to protect themselves and others; not keeping proof meant one could be accused of anything.
But keeping copies of conversations on the server itself was just as detrimental; private folders could be accessed by the wrong person or people easily enough. Posts and logs could be copied, emailed, edited, and passed around to a half dozen people. Members had to watch what they said and how they said it, to whom, who else was observing, where the record would be kept and who had access to the controls and folders. This was the ammunition used against members in fights.
Friendships were won and lost on how stolen logs were presented to a wider audience; misrepresentations of chat conversations were also very common and grounds for mass hostilities in multiple forums. The whole purpose of the Delphi Forums server was for people to network and socialize; but it got to the point where no one trusted anyone else enough to speak without recording the conversation. At the same time, accusations and criticism were severe.
Members could find themselves criticized for anything; being friends with the wrong people, being a member of the wrong faction, talking too much about one’s offline real life, or not talking enough about it. One could find themselves criticized for being too vague, or for over-sharing; for being too trusting, or not trusting enough. Only those who allowed themselves to be controlled by the self-appointed “guardians of Delphi” could meet the “community standards”.
Members were often made to feel guilty for something; for not defending someone else, or guilty for defending the wrong person. Members were made to feel guilty for holding a “wrong opinion”, guilty for continuing to speak to someone else after they had been “blacklisted” by other so-called “friends”. Members were made to feel guilty for letting the people into their forums or their factions that others didn’t like.
Members were taught to fear the consequences of being “held accountable” on someone else’s public forum boards. To fear the humiliation unleashed along with the colorful and abusive insults that accompanied such posts. Members were taught to fear being coerced to go to such forums where they would be harassed and abused by the posts of several attackers at once, easily getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of hateful running commentary. Members were taught to fear other members in chats; including those invited to a chat to work out differences.
Some members were taught to fear talking to me in a chatroom, not because of anything I had ever done to them in one before, but because of what other people told them I would do to them if they entered a chat room I was in. Members were taught to fear the consequences of being “blacklisted” by all of the forums in the “Dark Forums Community”. Members were taught to fear the consequences for friends who chose to ignore such “blacklisting” to talk to them.
Some members developed reputations for having “psychic or magical ability” due to spiritual or religious practices; and other members were taught to fear those members because of those practices. A popular rumor to scare members with was to claim that certain other members practiced psychic vampirism. Other members found it useful to claim they practiced psychic vampirism in hopes of protecting themselves from trouble later. The same thing occurred with reputations and rumors of computer hacking.
Shame was also a useful tool for manipulating members of the “Dark Forums”; members were shamed for refusing to go into a hostile forum for “accounting” as “demanded”. Members were called “cowards” if they refused to go, read and respond to hostile posts; or refused to attend a chat full of accusers. If on the other hand one did go and put up with such abuse, if they stood their ground and made their own counterarguments, they were called “liars” and locked out.
Members were shamed for speaking out of turn on post threads, for asking questions of the narratives, for having the “wrong friends” or belonging to the “wrong faction”. If one had the wrong friends or faction, one was “stupid”. If one had the “wrong opinion”, one needed to “get your facts straight”. Problems were always the fault of the member being attacked; the one being accused of something is the one who has done everything wrong, for all the worst reasons.
Accused members were always somehow the “menace to the whole community”; there was never anything wrong with the accuser’s perception of events and their perceptions were always considered “facts”. Anyone who did not agree that the accuser spoke in “facts” while the accused spoke in “lies” was coaxed by “friends” who tried to make them feel guilty for not seeing it the accuser’s way. Failure to go along with the narrative meant losing those “friends”.
Problems were usually the fault of the member’s “weakness of character”, “lack of intelligence”, “untrustworthiness”, and “lack of loyalty” to one group or another. Members were always made to feel as though they didn’t meet the “Delphi Server Standard”. It was probably closer to the truth that everyone felt as though everyone else was out to get them. Because of the nature of “The Delphi Game” they were right that some individuals were out to get them.
Every destructive cult has it’s “devil lurking behind every corner”, just lying in wait to seduce folks, kill them or drive them insane. In Delphi’s case, one of those “devils” was my faction. We were “lying in wait, plotting to seduce everyone, committing acts of “war”, killing everybody and putting their heads on pikes on the start pages, and otherwise driving everyone insane”. Not really, but that was the role my faction was given; we were the server bogeymen.
Delphi’s Dark Forums members got to a point where “fuck overs” had gone way past any kind of “game” in Delphi. They took on a more serious nature, in some cases, nearly a pathological obsessiveness. People were digging for real life “dirt” on each other, taking time out of their daily lives to plan schemes of server vengeance designed to make others look as stupid as possible, or as crazy as possible.
Principles that used to mean something to them, honor, honesty, integrity, courage, freedom of speech and the right to privacy, these things no longer mattered. They were doing things deliberately to make each other paranoid, to convince one another of the reality of a coming “server war”, they pushed each other until members were breaking Delphi’ Terms of Service rules, manipulating one another and Delphi TOS staff to remove members from the server.
All for the sake of “The Delphi Game”, a cult indoctrination process, on an internet server; for the sake of manipulating “pixel people” they labeled as such just so they didn’t have to feel any real guilt themselves. Over the fact that behind every profile on this internet server, was a real person; a real human being and they had been manipulated through fear, shame, and guilt for years.
Today, we see this same kind of manipulation using fear, guilt, and shame, but especially fear and guilt, online and off, especially in the context of religious and/or political ideology and narrative. It is occurring in families and in social circles, on social media, in the comment sections of news media sites, in the opinion section of print newspapers, on every talk show on television or radio, especially in the U.S. but also in other countries.
It usually starts with a political or religious public speaker singling out a group for a difference; different religious belief, different skin color, different sexual preference or gender interpretation. Then that public speaker provides a list of faults, grievances, criticisms, reasons for people to fear the group of people who are different. A false narrative is created, a rhetoric that permits, justifies unfair treatment of the other group. The narrative spreads, others join in, and the minority group is put on the defensive.
The majority group pushes the parameters of shocking behavior, normalizing acts of cruelty, and escalating paranoia of the out-group; it becomes an “us” against “them” narrative, with “us” becoming more and more superior, faultless, and yet persecuted, victimized, while the “other” becomes less and less human, more inferior, more at fault, more to blame, and more victimized through abuse and criminal acts; Christian versus Muslim, Rightist versus Leftist, Conservative versus Liberal.
Where does it lead? In the past it has led to civil wars, revolutions, two world wars, and genocide. Today it has led to civil wars, revolutions, several failed states, state sponsored and stateless terrorism, real religious persecutions, political imprisonment, torture, economic losses, environmental losses, and genocides. The same kind of manipulation and abuse dynamic inherent to “The Delphi Game” is seen today in the back and forth manipulation by those in power as they encourage faction development and sabotage.
And everybody is in the process of becoming somebody else’s “devil“.
***This is part 27 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.