Mercy Ministries and censorship

Since becoming the subject of bad press in 2008, it seems that Mercy Ministries and their supporters have been hard at work to censor expressions of criticism of their organisation.

Mercy Ministries’ censorship of Wikipedia

The most recent and brazen example of this relates to the “Mercy Ministries” article on Wikipedia.

Just hours following the publication of an article penned by Mercy Ministries’ senior executive Christy Singleton in The Tennessean[1], a large volume of culling was done to the article by a user named DownRightMighty[2].  The bulk of the previous content was quickly replaced by promotional fodder from Mercy Ministries’ own websites with regard to their funding, promotional activities and celebrity endorsements, with a single “controversy” section being relegated to a four line paragraph at the bottom of the page[3].

With a gusto of attitude, this user not only aggressively pursued and defended his/her changes to the article, but also made ongoing accusations of others, claiming that they were covertly manipulating Wikipedia with multiple accounts[4][5][6]. As it turns out, this user was exposed yesterday morning in a spectacular fashion by a Wikipedia administrator on the article’s talk page[4]:

Sadly, it turns out that DownRightMighty is a serial abuser of Wikipedia operating under dozens of names, who, we believe is being paid to edit Wikipedia on behalf of a large number of companies. While some corporate representatives and PR agents act in good faith, this person is not (given the amount of effort they’re taking to remain hidden).

As such, DownRightMighty’s account was suspended by Wikipedia for “sock puppetry”[7] along with his other accounts, including Morning277[8] which has made edits on Mercy Ministries article earlier this year[3].

Now if Mercy Ministries had not been guilty of so many other instances of censorship in the past, including past attempts at censorship of this very Wikipedia article involving two Mercy Ministries-owned IP addresses [9][10]29], it would be unfair to implicate them with any certainty. However, I find it extremely difficult, especially given the remarkable timing of these edits and their recent PR efforts (covered in detail over at My Cult Life), that Mercy Ministries are not behind the recent censoring of Wikipedia.

EDIT:  As it turns out, my suspicions were confirmed by Wikipedia administrator Qworty on 26 October 2012, who states:

All of this is correct.  Mercy Ministries paid this guy, whose name is Mike, to edit this article.

Information (milieu) control at Mercy Ministries

Information control is no new practice for Mercy Ministries. This particular criterion for cult behaviour (also known as milieu control) had been alive and well at Mercy Ministries since their inception in the early 1980s, when they were better known as “Covenant Ministries”. Whilst there is much to say on this, I will leave you to identify the abundance of examples in the remainder of this piece.

Cult expert Steven Hassan notes the following aspects of information control in his BITE model[11]:

1. Use of deceptiona. Deliberately holding back informationb. Distorting information to make it acceptablec. Outright lying

In addition to their attempted censorship at Wikipedia, Mercy Ministries have turned to number of other measures in their pursuit of damage control…

Mercy Ministries’ censorship of the Australian and US abuse scandals

The media criticism that Mercy Ministries Australia received early in 2008 related to scathing allegations of abusive, unethical and dangerously medically-negligent treatment of the young women in their care as well as “false and misleading advertising” as to the nature of their services.

The initial accusations of three young women were quickly confirmed by other former residents of Mercy Ministries in Australia and abroad, in the way of televised interviews, radio podcasts and YouTube videos, not to mention a number of survivor blogs that sprang up, first-hand comments left on various websites covering the unfolding scandals and further newspaper articles published in the US and UK, evidencing that many of these issues were not unique to the Australian facilities[12].

In the interests of damage control, Mercy Ministries Australia quickly made changes to their website and promotional material, causing it to appear more palatable and adding defence to the claims made by the former residents behind the explosion of media attention[13].

Peter Irvine, a director at the time, made comments dismissing the outspoken former residents as “bitter”, “troubled” and “making things up” [14]. (In the language of abuse recovery, this is a form of denial that is known as “crazy making”[15]).

Over time, and as it became apparent that the scandals were not going to go away too easily, Nancy Alcorn and Mercy Ministries of America claimed that the scandals were isolated incidents to the Australian homes and were the sole responsibility of the former directors.  Any trace of the existance of the Australian homes disappeared from the Mercy Ministries of America and Mercy Ministries International websites.

Mercy Ministries censorship of the US abuse scandals

After the Australian abuse scandals which were echoed by The Nashville Scene in their scathing article “Jesus RX” followed by further media attention and former US residents coming forward, Mercy Ministries of America decided to try their hand at flooding search engines with positive information about their organisation.

They rallied their supporters and subscribers, requesting that they add Mercy Ministries links to their websites and blogs, and to write about Mercy Minstries using the full text “Mercy Ministries” in order to improve their Google rankings and remove “negative” information from peaking at the top. [16]  Mercy Ministries also asked that they go to the website by Googling “Mercy Ministries” and clicking on the website, and to avoid clicking on any “negative” stories so that the Mercy Ministries website stayed at the top. 

More recently, in a further act of historical denial following the scandals earlier in 2012 surrounding the Mercy Ministries home in Lincoln, Mercy Ministries of America has claimed that all other homes (including the Australian homes) were and are mere affiliates with independent governance and oversight, and related to Mercy Ministries of America only in name[17].  The website for Mercy Ministries International has disappeared, with the domain name transferring visitors to the Mercy Ministries of America website.  And as for the Mercy Ministries of America website, distinction of “affiliates” is now made, citing the existance of Ministry Collaboration Agreements outlining their claims that other homes are, in fact, affiliates [18][19][20].

At the beginning of 2012, Mercy Ministries received criticism for claims made in articles published by the Lincoln News Messenger[21] [22] [23] [24]. These articles detailed the accounts of a former resident and two families, claiming that former residents had emerged from their treatment with false memories of sexual abuse.  A flurry of comments ensued in response to each of the four articles. Unfortunately, their commenting system which was powered by Facebook resulted in most of the critical comments “magically” disappearing, leaving an array of incomplete and disjointed conversations dominated by the sentiments of Mercy Ministries and their supporters[25] [26] [27] [28].

Mercy Ministries censorship on YouTube

In October 2008, former residents and other interested members of the general public had videos taken down from YouTube that contained criticism of Mercy Ministries.  Some even had their entire YouTube accounts suspended[29].

The reason for this was that false DMCA (copyright infringement) claims were made by a “Mercy Ministries Inc”, citing the usage of their logo and promotional material as fodder to their claim.  However, videos that used this material did so under “fair use”, and even videos that did not even use this material were also removed.[29]

What was even more absurd is that within days of this occuring, Mercy Ministries actually rallied their supporters to upload their promotional videos on YouTube, contianing their logo and other apparent “copyrighted” material[30].  So on the one hand, they were penalising instances of fair use with bogus copyright claims, and even instances where their material was not actually being used at all, yet they were giving the public free licence to reproduce their material.

A number of the banished videos soon reappeared under new accounts, each with a loud and clear message to Mercy Ministries, YouTube and anyone else who it may concern, citing “fair use” for their reinstatement. They have managed to stay up, however any critical comments of videos on the Mercy Ministries channel are quickly removed. (This practice continues across other social media which I will discuss in a moment).

Mercy Ministries’ censorship of comments on Facebook, Twitter and Nancy Alcorn’s blog

Following suit from their YouTube account, I could discuss the countless comments left on the Mercy Ministries’ Facebook page (containing any degree of criticism) that have mysteriously and quickly disappeared, with the offenders being blocked from commenting any further. Or, I could share with you the various Tweets directed @NancyAlcorn that have been blocked, with the offender’s account being banished from viewing any of Nancy’s future tweets.

But instead, I challenge you personally to test this theory and attempt posting any form of criticism, however sugarcoated or watered down, on Mercy Ministries’ Facebook page or perhaps a one line tweet in Nancy’s direction.

The situation with Nancy Alcorn’s blog is much the same as other social media.  Give it a try and see for yourself, but if you’d rather read about others’ experiences, check out Cynic Sage’s coverage of Nancy’s “i’m not a lesbian” piece[31].

Written By Mercy Survivors

Support for survivors of Mercy Ministries

5 Comments on “Mercy Ministries and censorship

  1. […] history of censorship from Mercy Ministries of anyone who is critical of the ministry. Read more here. BioLatest Posts Lisa Kerr Lisa Kerr is a survivor of a fundamentalist Christian cult called […]

  2. […] Ministries will censor their Wikipedia page[1], YouTube accounts outing them, and anything else that will give them away as not a perfect, […]

  3. […] the way of censorship (previously discussed at length here), Mercy Ministries again fail to surprise, having removed even more of the more damning evidence […]

  4. […] For your assistance, Mercy Ministries’ history of censorship is explored at length here, and the ever-elusive article in question is discussed […]

  5. […] make mention of this to help avoid further (ahem) misunderstandings over use of their material and more false copyright infringements being lodged on social media.  We therefore wish to state, for the record once again, that any links to Mercy Ministries or […]

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