In May 2019, screenshots of a purported exchange between a prayer-seeking fan and the Joel Osteen Ministries page began circulating on social media:
In the screenshot, someone posted: “I am requesting prayer for my marriage.” In response, it appeared that the Facebook page for Joel Osteen Ministries replied:
Unfortunately, your Joel Osteen prayer request account has not been activated. In order to activate your account, you will need to add a monthly donation of $24.99, which will give you access to 3 prayer requests per month. If you donate $49.99 each month you will become a Platinum Prayer Request member, which gives you access to over 10 prayer requests per month and a chance to buy tickets to my next performance at your local arena.
That the screenshot appeared to at least be plausible to readers is unsurprising given Osteen’s reputation for preaching the controversially materialistic “prosperity gospel.” However, the exchange was also reminiscent of the satirical social media efforts of comedian and professional troll Ben Palmer, also known as the “hope it helps” guy:
Spelunking in the depths of comment sections is tough when it’s part of your job; what makes it fun for Palmer?
“I believe it was little bit after New Year’s [Day 2014],” he said. “I was doing a lot of posts on company pages, just asking ridiculous questions and seeing if I could get a response from them. I would sometimes, but most of the time they wouldn’t respond. I was looking for something more and something to do, so one night I went on Uber’s page, and that’s when I discovered that all of their customers post on their page, and they have a customer service team that responds to them. I noticed that Uber wasn’t really responding to all of their complaints at the time, so that gave me the idea: If they’re not gonna respond to me, then I’m just gonna start responding for them.”
As it turned out, trolling is exactly what this comment was. The “Hope It Helps” comedy Facebook page posted similar screenshots of exchanges on the Joel Osteen Ministries Facebook page:
In a separate May 15 2019 post, Palmer shared “live trolling” on Osteen’s page:
The Joel Osteen Ministries “prayer request account” post was satirical, not authentic — but evidently, close enough to the reality as to be very believable to many readers.