Joel Osteen, famed evangelist pastor of Lakewood Church, was the target of an Internet hoax that gained attention Monday. A fake website, Twitter account, YouTube and news stories were published and updated with information claiming that Osteen was leaving the church and ceasing his relationship with Christianity.
A fake CNN website, Yahoo website and Drudge Report banner were created for the hoax and released on the YouTube account “ChristianityNews,” which was set up earlier this month.
One of the fake websites used, joelosteenministries.wordpress.com, stated, “In my heart, for a number of years now, I have been questioning the faith, Christianity and whether Jesus Christ is really my, or anyone’s, ‘savior.’”
Another one of the fake sites spelled Osteen’s last name with only one e.
However, no reports of Osteen’s supposed decision were mentioned on his real website, joelosteen.com, or his verified Twitter account.
A message on Osteen’s real Twitter account Tuesday morning said, “It is a false rumor: Pastor Joel is not leaving the church,” which may have drawn more attention to the hoax than originally existed.
Mixed responses were drawn from members of Osteen’s church, some of them wanting affirmation that Osteen was not leaving the church, others proclaiming that they knew it was a hoax.
The man who created the hoax responded in an email to NPR, but he said he wishes to remain anonymous. He said he did not create the hoax to attack Osteen but that he wanted to stage a hypothetical scenario of Osteen’s resignation and “test viral media markets.” He said he also wanted to send a message to Osteen to stop preaching positive messages constantly and start focusing more on serious social issues.
The man put real contact information on his fake version of Osteen’s website, to which he said many people responded after they knew the website was a hoax. He said about 60 percent of the feedback he received was positive.
He said he could get in legal trouble for the hoax, but that he will be prepared for it.