White text against a red background of hearts read:
Christians are being told to stop saying Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ because it is offending Muslims…NOPE NOT GONNA HAPPEN!!
As noted on numerous TruthOrFiction.com pages, the format of text-only generated-image status updates is a strong vector for disinformation on Facebook. Claims made in the eye-catching format include no appended links or citations by design, and due to their visual appeal they frequently spread fast and furiously — even if they’re factually compromised or outright spreading corrosive disinformation.
The status update quoted above is no exception, making a sweeping claim (that someone, somewhere was forbidding Christians from calling Jesus the “Son of God”), because doing so was offensive to Muslims.
That claim was somewhat similar to a May 2019 rumor that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said that Christianity was an “insult to Muslims.” In that instance, the claim also spread in the same format, and was shared one day after the Facebook post embedded above.
On that page we noted:
The post about Bernie Sanders appeared in this form: Simple text in a highly-sharable, public image format with no citations or other corroborating information. Despite the post being nothing more than a simple statement, it was shared by roughly a quarter of a million Facebook users in a few weeks.
As of November 12 2019, the post claiming “Christians are being told to stop saying Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ because it is offending Muslims” had been shared hundreds of thousands and was still being reposted at a dozens-per-hour clip — likely more, as many sharers were likely posting it on a “friends only” setting. Those who shared and commented on the posts indicated that they believed the claim was true for the United States:
“the hell with muslims!!! deport them creatures!!”
“If they are offended they can go home. No hatred…just saying. America is the land of the free; they are free to stay or free to leave.”
“Jesus is the Son of God and is God Himself. Muslims and their actions in this country offend me.”
“I agree, they are now wanting to change the name of Christmas tree’s to Holiday tree’s because Christ is Christmas, sad that what once was the greatest Nation on earth has fallen so deep into the pit of Hell”
“I don’t care what they don’t like our stuff go back to where you come from !!!!”
“If I want to burn a koran while singing Jesus is the son of God while eating a giant pork pulled sandwich, I will, welcome to America..”
“If that is Really True?What an Outrageous State of Affairs this Nation has really come to!!! I Most Certainly Will Not do so! As I would not expect any Muslim to change what is a deeply held believe about his prophet so many deem a perfect man.Start Practicing Tolerance instead of just Parroting it!!!”
All of the comments and posts quoted above appeared on the morning of November 12 2019 alone, but by that point the post itself had been spreading for more than six months. No recent posts included any links to supporting information, and largely consisted of people saying that if “Muslims are offended” they should “go back where they came from” (forgetting or ignoring that Islam is a religion, not an ethnicity.)
In any event, the claims echoed January 2019 posts on the sites Prophecy Today.com and FrontpageMag.com. Media Bias Fact Check sorted Prophecy Today into the “CONSPIRACY-PSEUDOSCIENCE,” and Frontpage Mag into “QUESTIONABLE SOURCE.” Of the latter, the site said:
Reasoning: Extreme Right, Propaganda, Conspiracy, Anti-Muslim
In review, FrontPage Magazine promotes extreme right wing propaganda that utilizes loaded language such as this: LEFTISTS HAVE ALWAYS LIED ABOUT AUSCHWITZ. They also routinely promote President Trump’s immigration agenda such as this: ORWELLIAN SPECTACLE OVERSHADOWS IMMIGRATION DEBATE. The primary purpose of this website is to paint Islam followers negatively such as this: AMERICA’S NEWEST MUSLIM MARTYR IS A CHILD RAPIST AND KILLER. In general, the stories published on this website serve to portray Islam in a negative light. You will never find a positive story, only murder, rape and terror. This is a classic propaganda and conspiracy website that many take seriously.
Both Prophecy Today and Frontpage Mag drew their reporting from a December 24 2018 Washington Times item about Christians in Uganda, headlined “Ugandan Christians live in fear of minority Muslims on quest for conversions.” Of Washington Times, Media Bias Fact Check identifies “a strong pro- Christian bias, with a whole section dedicated to the Bible” adding the organization had also “published articles [criticizing] left leaning Christians such as this: ‘George Soros and his ‘rented evangelicals’ outed by Christian leaders.’”
It also noted:
In review, The Washington Times utilizes emotionally loaded language in their headlines such as “Gowdy puts Comey on blast after FBI ex-chief’s snarky ‘search for the truth’ tweet” and “NBC News’ Mika Brzezinski problem.” When it comes to sourcing, The Washington Times re-publishes articles from the least biased Associated Press and occasionally utilizes credible sources such as Refinery29. In examining several articles, we found that The Times either does not source information at all, or they simply link back to themselves (internal linking) to information that is not relevant to the article. This article is a good example of internal linking: “Mueller: FBI did not mislead Flynn into lying.” Internal linking is a technique used to increase page views and improve SEO, thereby increasing advertising revenue. There is nothing wrong with internal linking if the link relates to relevent information, but in the case of The Times, it does not.
Washington Times reported broadly on tensions between Christians and Muslims based on ongoing claims by a Christian group called World Watch Monitor. That reporting included comments from both Muslims and Christians; even in reporting months-old discord in Uganda, it was evident that World Watch Monitor was describing an instance of unwelcome preaching:
In June , a group of Muslims attacked Christian preachers in eastern Uganda during a “crusade,” where Christians publicly profess their faith and invite others to join.
Muslims dismissed the allegations and said they warned their Christians neighbors not to make provocative statements that offend them. “We have now declared a jihad against them,” said Abubakar Yusuf, 55, a Muslim teacher. “We are not going to allow anybody to despise Islamic teachings at their church or crusade. We will seek revenge.”
[Pastor Moses] Saku and millions of other Christians across Uganda are now demanding government protection.
“We cannot continue to live in fear of preaching the Gospel and telling people the truth that Jesus is the son of God,” he said. “As Christians, we need protection from the government because our Muslim brothers are very angry when they hear the truth. But we have never abused Muslims or Allah during our preaching.”
The Washington Times‘ December 2018 article was about disputes between Christians and Muslims in Uganda, not the United States — an element that was not made clear in the Facebook post. Many of the sharers and commenters interacting with that post made it clear that they believed the claim applied to the United States. To complicate things, Washington Times‘ coverage was aggregated — but not fact checked — by the Associated Press on the same day it was published. That unfortunately led readers to believe that the reporting was directly from the Associated Press, and not reprinted from a news organization (Washington Times) that has been known to cater to Christian viewpoints.
A post claiming “Christians are being told to stop saying Jesus is the ‘Son of God’ because it is offending Muslims” continued spreading quickly on Facebook months after its appearance. Its origin appeared to be a game of “Telephone,” in which the Associated Press boosted a Washington Times article that used other biased or unreliable reporting to suggest its headline about “saying Jesus is the ‘Son of God'” was some sort of broad statement. Anyone who dug down even for a few minutes could see the claim itself had to do with to a dispute between Christians preaching in Uganda, and Muslims objecting to proselytizing. The true issue was unwanted evangelism in Uganda as well as tension between two religions in that country, not religious censorship.
Updated, July 28 2020, 2:06 PM: A very similar rumor circulated Facebook due to a May 2020 post — once again, the post accrued tens of thousands of shares, disproving its own point: