The state of the world as of late has conditioned us to feel a pang of panic anytime we see a familiar name trending on social media. So, if you saw Neopets flooding your feeds and hoped for a moment that it was possibly good, nostalgic news ... well, maybe you want to stop reading here. Recent reports claim that Neopets was run by scientologists, along with allegations of the way it affected employees in the company. (Bustle has reached out to Viacom, the company that bought Neopets in 2005, for comment, and will update upon response; The Outline, the outlet that originally reported the story, also reached out to Viacom and has not heard back as of publishing.)
As reported by The Outline earlier this week, the former CEO of Neopets Doug Dohring was reportedly involved with Scientology. As you’re probably familiar, the Church of Scientology has long been controversial. Former members of the church like actress Leah Remini have spoken out, since leaving, with allegations about how the organization abused and isolated them.
The connections between Neopets and Scientology were primarily in its business practices, The Outline claims. Dohring reportedly abided by the Org Board Method, a Scientology-based method, which created a hierarchy of business divisions. While that may seem innocuous, Patricia Illingworth, a professor at Northeastern University and a Senior Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government’s Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard, told The Outline “the model is less ethical than it appears.”
Under the Org Board Method, employees were allegedly trained and expected to “spy” on other employees, reporting “pertinent” activities and behavior to top-level executives. Illingworth also claimed in instances of employees doing anything that may “undercut the mission” of the company, others were “advised to retaliate.”
However, the Scientology connections don’t stop there. In a Reddit AMA from 2014, Neopets co-creator Donna Williams addressed the links between the virtual pet platform and the Church of Scientology. “At one time there was some talk about putting scientology education on the site,” Williams claimed on Reddit. In her interview with The Outline, Williams restated this claim, specifying that the company was interested in bringing on a woman who wanted to “bring Scientology onto the site.” Williams claimed both she and Neopets co-creator Adam Powell “fought that as hard as we could and they got rid of her.”
“Adam and I made sure that it never made its way onto anything site related,” Williams wrote on Reddit. “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!”
Given Neopets’ young demographic and the significant role it played in online kids’ entertainment, it makes sense why so many are talking about its links to Scientology.
Even the internet’s godmother Chrissy Teigen played Neopets. She recently confirmed that yes, that was her that won multiple Neopets caption contents. Teigen was even a board moderator at one point in time. After tweeting that she “missed Neopets,” Teigen revisited the platform to see it in all its nostalgic glory. She confirmed the site “has not changed a bit” and that the giant omelette — an infamous, literal omelette used to feed Neopets — “...is still cooking.”
Is it fueled by magic? By Scientology? Who can really say?
“When we realized it was a bit of a shock,” Williams said to The Outline regarding the co-creators’ discovery of the reported Neopets-Scientology link. “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.”
RIP, our childhoods.