The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has evolved on social media—from genuine utterances to turning into a meme. Now, it seems that Facebook wants to capitalize off it.
Facebook has the largest user base of all the social media platforms, and people from all walks of life use it daily. As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that quite a lot of religious groups and individuals are on Facebook. The social media giant wants to appeal to that side of their audiences, so they’ve expanded to a new feature called Prayer Posts.
So what will this “thoughts and prayers” function allow people to do? Well, according to the platform, users can either ask for or offer prayers to other users across Facebook. However, it’s not exactly a new thing. A spokesperson for the social media giant said that this feature has been making rounds for testing for over a year, and it was slowly rolled out to the rest of Facebook’s user base over the last few months. (Read: US attorneys general sue to break up Facebook)
Facebook’s spokesperson also talked about how the Facebook thoughts and prayers function was soft-launched last December to help people cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. It was made available for a few groups, and group administrators were permitted to enable the feature for the group’s members. It’s also intended to provide Facebook’s religious users with more support and ways to express their faith.
Notably, one of the first people who noticed the function was the head of the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert Jones. Jones took to Twitter to express his curiosity, and while it didn’t make the big news outlets at the time, smaller, religious news outlets did their research on the subject and were able to confirm that Facebook was indeed testing out the new feature.
During such a tumultuous time as this, there is a more emphasized need for community, and people are surely craving the comforts they used to enjoy during the pre-Covid era. Nona Jones, Facebook’s leader for Global Faith Partnerships, said that one of the purposes behind the Prayer Posts is to foster a sense of community despite being limited to the virtual space.
Before you can use the Prayer Posts, a group administrator must approve it first. Once they have opted in, members can type down their prayer requests, which could then be read by the other members of the group. Users can interact with the poster by pressing on the “pray” button, which would indicate to the poster that they are being prayed for. While it may seem like a thoughtful gesture at first glance, some analysts are not convinced.
Facebook, is, after all, the largest social media platform in the world. These Prayer Posts would mean additional data for them to use to tailor-fit each user’s Facebook experience. Some analysts are saying that Facebook may find a way to monetize this data, despite the big chance that many Prayer Posts would be dealing with highly sensitive and deeply personal subject matters.
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