“Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection” – Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg introducing an online resource hub with tools to build congregations on the platform.
Facebook has a global faith director. It is partnering with churches and denominations, especially evangelical and Pentecostal, requiring nondisclosure agreements. It held a faith summit last month that included “testimonials” from faith leaders. It is developing new products like prayer sharing where you can post a prayer request and others will respond — and features like ads during streaming of worship services.
The New York Times and Reuters both have reports.
The partnerships reveal how Big Tech and religion are converging far beyond simply moving services to the internet. Facebook is shaping the future of religious experience itself, as it has done for political and social life.
Facebook’s head of faith partnerships Nona Jones told Reuters in an interview … prayer posts are used to personalize ads on Facebook, like other content. A spokesperson said the data could feed into how Facebook’s machine learning systems decide which ads to show users. Advertisers will not be able to directly target ads based on the content of the prayer or use of the feature, the person said. The spokesperson also said prayer tool use would not be factored into the categories that ad buyers already use to slice up Facebook audiences based on a demonstrated interest in topics, like “faith,” or “Catholic Church.”
Some religious leaders and Group members said they wanted to see the same level of commitment Facebook had shown in launching prayers to dealing with abuse targeted at their communities on the site. Khizer Subhani, who runs a Facebook Group for Muslims in the Bay Area which was given early access to the prayers feature, said he welcomed the company’s focus but weighed it against his frustrations over Facebook’s handling of hate speech around religious groups on the platform.