Smiling megachurch speaker and author Joel Osteen has been targeted in an elaborate internet hoax claiming that he has resigned from Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas and has left the Christian faith.
The yet unidentified entity behind the hoax appears to have set up a Blogger account, run by Google, within the past few days. While the URL of the blog uses the name “Christianity News Texas,” the “about me” section of the site falsely utilizes the logo and identity of Christian News Network in an attempt to legitimatize the fabricated news story.
The first article that was posted, claiming that Osteen was leaving the Christian faith and was subsequently resigning from Lakewood, was written as if originating from Ted Turner’s CNN outlet, but was listed as if being posted by Christian News Network. It alleged that Osteen stated that God was a “fictional character” and that he would rather focus on “immediate issues,” such as the environment.
“We’ve given him so much, and now he’s leaving us?” read one of the concocted reactions from Lakewood members included in the article. “We won’t stand for it.”
The hoax also included a video presentation in which news headlines from sites like CNN, CBN, Yahoo! News and the Drudge Report were manipulated to appear as if they had all released stories on the matter.
Furthermore, the perpetrator created a fake website for Osteen, and made it to appear similar to Osteen’s official site. However, the individual spelled Osteen’s last name incorrectly as “Osten” in the URL and on the site, sending signs that the matter was a hoax. The website was linked in the fabricated article as if to serve as “proof” of the news.
A WordPress blog was also set up under the guise of being the official property of Osteen, as well as a Twitter account. One visitor who had expressed their suspicions about the fake Twitter account received a response from the individual who posed as Osteen.
“Nothing fake here,” the reply stated. “The church controls almost all the accts in my name. They’ve cut off and seized my accts. They’re panicking.”
Additionally, on one or more of the sites, as well as the video that was uploaded to YouTube under the username “Christianity News,” a fictitious letter was posted, which was to have been written by Osteen, explaining his alleged reasons for deciding to leave the Christian faith.
During the day on Monday, the Twitter site was suspended, and the WordPress blog was also disabled. However, the main Blogspot site remained online. The perpetrator posted a second fake story about Osteen today, this time attributing the entire report falsely to Christian News Network.
“Christian News Network has also produced an updated article on this blog detailing the latest developments on this story: ‘Osteen decries Monsanto, criticizes Obama,'” one of the bogus announcements read on the site in bold letters.
The credit card used to purchase the domain in creating the fraudulent website, as well as the IP address of the user, are now being sought to identify the individual responsible for the widespread hoax.