Facebook rolled out a feature that seemingly has the religious world divided – a tool that lets you post for or respond to prayer requests.
According to the Associated Press, the feature is now available in certain Facebook groups, where members can make a "prayer post" about upcoming job interviews, illnesses and other personal challenges. Other members can then respond to the post by tapping an "I prayed" button, hitting "like", leaving a comment or sending a direct message. Similar to other posts, when someone reacts, the member who posted will get a notification for it.
The social media firm reportedly began testing the feature in the U.S. sometime in December last year as part of an effort to support faith communities during a time when in-person gatherings were restricted.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic we've seen many faith and spirituality communities using our services to connect, so we’re starting to explore new tools to support them," said a Facebook spokesperson.
The Facebook for Faith page added that the feature is optional and must be turned on by the admin in the group's settings for members to start using it.
American Southern Baptist pastor and televangelist Rev. Robert Jeffress sees "prayer posts" as a positive addition to Facebook's suite of tools.
"Facebook and other social media platforms continue to be tremendous tools to spread the Gospel of Christ and connect believers with one another – especially during this pandemic," he said. "While any tool can be misused, I support any effort like this that encourages people to turn to the one true God in our time of need."
Adeel Zeb, a Muslim chaplain at The Claremont Colleges in California, similarly shared his support for the tool.
"As long as these companies initiate proper precautions and protocols to ensure the safety of religiously marginalised communities, people of faith should jump on board supporting this vital initiative," he said.
Credit: Facebook for Faith
Not all religious leaders, however, shared the same enthusiasm as Jeffress and Zeb, with some worrying about how the tool can infringe upon people's privacies.
"Is it wise to post everything about everyone for the whole world to see?" Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Ohio told the Associated Press.
"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," he added.
While there are some who are skeptical of Facebook's motivation for adding such a tool, they also concede that at least for the meantime it helps fulfill the spiritual needs of the members of their church.
"But in the moment we're in, I don't know many people who don't have a big part of their prayer life online," said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union of Reform Judaism. "We've all been using the chat function for something like this – sharing who we are praying for."
Facebook said advertisers will be unable to use a user's "prayer post" to target them with ads.
Written by Kyle Chua