An Albertan Muslim group's message for promoting racial equality last month got turned around entirely. A misleading image of their Edmonton billboard began circulating online, which completely changed the intended meaning. Meanwhile, the company that owns the boards received almost 100 complaints about the image.
The billboard originally read "Prophet Muhammad taught a white is not superior to a Black & a Black is not superior to a white except by piety & good action."
An altered image of the billboard was then posted on a Facebook group called Alberta Oil toward the end of June. The word "not" was darkened so that the sign appeared to read "a Black is superior to a white."
"This is a real public service announcement that you cannot believe what you see," said Momin Saeed, executive director of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), to Narcity in an interview.
His group had organized the Pattison billboard, which he said was in response to the killing of George Floyd in the U.S. Its message echoed the final sermon of Prophet Muhammad, said Saeed.
He believed that people either intentionally took the photo in a way that the message was altered, or "distorted" the image using an editing program.
It was a "huge disappointment," he said, that people would "play with" their original intention and the message behind the billboard.
Meanwhile, posts to Alberta Oil urged members to call Pattison, the company that owns the billboards, about the "racial billboard."
In a statement to CBC, the company said that they received nearly 100 calls and emails regarding the sign.
"Many of the messages were extremely rude and offensive and some were violent and threatening," they wrote.
After investigating the sign in person for mechanical issues, the company concluded that "someone had intentionally posted a distorted, or doctored image on Facebook," their statement continued.
Narcity has reached out to Pattison for comment and we will update this story when we receive a response.
Saeed said that while many people fell for the altered image, there were also people in the group that pointed out the original. And when most people found out they'd been misled, he continued, they were disappointed but accepted it.
Currently, the billboard is still up and will stay up for the near future.