Founded in 2005, the tech company Subsplash has been in business for 16 years and is known for an app that is widely used by Christian churches in the United States. The Subsplash platform, during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been useful for churches that have moved their services online. But journalist Kiera Butler, in an article published by Mother Jones this week, reports that the Subsplash platform is also being used for something “dark”: spreading anti-vaxxer disinformation.
Butler explains, “The company has expanded its platform and added new features: Pastors can now use Subsplash to host podcasts, videos, and a tithing and charitable giving widget that allow users to easily donate to the church or other causes. Subsplash apps can send congregants push notifications with service times, daily Bible verses, or anything else their pastors deem worthy. The pandemic has accelerated Subsplash’s growth: In March 2020, the company acquired a live streaming service that allowed churches to broadcast services as lockdowns began.”
Butler goes on to say, however, that there is a “dark side to the company’s hands-off approach”: anti-vaxxers and coronavirus deniers using the platform to spread lies and disinformation.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Subsplash has given voice to and amplified messages from many religiously affiliated anti-vaccine activists,” Butler reports. “On one Subsplash-hosted website called His Glory Me, viewers can watch videos that urge them not to yield to pressure to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video from a few weeks ago, featured guest chiropractor Dr. Bryan Ardis insists, ‘The Delta variant is not dangerous.’ The Church of Glad Tidings’ ‘Free and Brave’ video series hosted by Subsplash features noted antivaccine advocates, including Judy Mikovits, the personality behind the ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy theory video.”
Butler continues, “A September 12 video from Subsplash-hosted site Good Life Broadcasting spins theories about ominous connections among vaccines, the government, Bill Gates, and the Chinese Communist Party. Through Subsplash, the American Pastors Network runs a podcast series called ‘Stand in the Gap,’ which rails against mandatory vaccines and questions the seriousness of COVID-19. A July episode featured noted purveyor of vaccine misinformation Dr. Robert Malone.”
Contrary to what many far-right Christian nationalists and supporters of former President Donald Trump have claimed, the COVID-19 pandemic is no joke. First reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the COVID-19 coronavirus has since killed more than 4.6 million people worldwide and over 673,000 people in the United States (according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore). And as horrifying as Hopkins’ figures are, they don’t necessarily tell the entire story. The COVID-19 fatalities being widely reported are often hospital deaths, but not all deaths from COVID-19 occur in hospitals. If someone dies from COVID-19 at home, that death may be reported as “heart failure” rather than a COVID-19-related death.
It’s important to emphasize that not all Christian churches have promoted COVID-19 denial. Plenty of Catholics and Mainline Protestants have encouraged church members to stay safe; some African-American churches have aggressively encouraged Blacks to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and have helped them do so. But within the far-right White evangelical movement, there is a cultish element that promotes deadly lies about the pandemic — and some are using the Subsplash platform to do it.
Nonetheless, Butler reports that the legal issues involved are “debatable.”
“The extent to which Subsplash could be considered directly culpable in the promotion of COVID-19 misinformation is debatable: The company simply provides the platform — it doesn’t control what individual preachers say,” Butler notes. “The company didn’t respond to questions sent by Mother Jones. But from politics to medicine, the online spread of conspiracy theories has called into question the role of technology companies as gatekeepers. Facebook, for example, has been implicated in allowing conspiracy theories to flourish. Lawmakers have tried to call it to account with limited success.”
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