Facebook to launch new prayer request function
Facebook was an effective tool for faith organisation during the pandemic
Facebook is working on a new function that would allow users to request prayers. The social media platform has confirmed the upcoming release of Prayer Posts. The new feature is a result of Facebook taking notice of how their site was used to organise faith communities during the pandemic.
According to NBC News, users will be able to add prayer requests to individual posts. Once marked for prayers, other users can click an “I Prayed” button that will be located alongside the “Like” button. The report goes on to note that Facebook has been testing the new feature since December 2020.
Religion News Service spoke with Nona Jones, head of Global Faith Partnerships at Facebook. Jones said Facebook recognised that much of its traffic came from religious communities during the pandemic. During the Easter/Passover week, for example, Facebook Messenger saw a record number of video calls. Jones told RNS:
“Our mission to give people the power to build community extends to the world’s largest community; the faith community.” She continued, “As a local church pastor with my husband, I know very well how disruptive the last year has been for people of faith and the houses of worship that serve them. This is why we are committed to finding ways to build the tools that help people connect to hope on Facebook.”
Prayer, data, and ads
Reuters reports that Jones confirmed that “Prayer Posts” are used to personalise Facebook advertisements. Furthermore, a spokesperson said that these posts could help determine what kinds of ads are shown to users.
They did note, however, that advertisers will not be allowed to target users based on the content of a prayer. Nor will they be factored into categories of “demonstrated interest topics,” also used to streamline ads.
Speaking to NBC News, Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Ohio, was cautiously optimistic. Fr. Stec said that he saw the feature as “positive affirmation” of the need for an “authentic” community. He did, however, wonder if it was the “community we need,” and said:
“We need to join our voices and hands in prayer. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and walk through great moments and challenges together.”
Fr. Stec went on to warn that such a platform could be used too much, or unwisely:
“Is it wise to post everything about everyone for the whole world to see?” he said. “On a good day we would all be reflective and make wise choices. When we are under stress or distress or in a difficult moment, it’s almost too easy to reach out on Facebook to everyone.”
Back in April another Facebook’s spokesperson said that they are testing the feature within a subset of groups in the Unites States only. The availability of this feature in other countries and groups is still unknown.