Back in April, Facebook announced a new prayer tool to enable religious groups to intercede with each other no matter where they are in the world. Called "prayer posts," the new feature enables Facebook users to post prayer requests, to which friends can click on a "pray" button to let the poster know that he or she prayed for their request.
Facebook's new prayer tool was met with mixed reviews from religious folk who thought it was a great way to engage the faithful online and those who are hesitant about using the Mark Zuckerberg-founded social media platform over privacy and security concerns.
"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," Facebook said in a statement, as reported by Baptist Press. Dallas First Baptist Church's pastor Robert Jeffress was one of the many church leaders who felt like Facebook's new prayer tool could bring together people in prayer despite being socially distant.
"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," Jeffress mused. "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."
Conway, Arkansas' Southern Baptist congregation minister Jacki King agreed, saying that Facebook's new prayer tool can truly help those who are isolated or struggling with mental health or financial issues. King said that these are the types of people who would leave a comment or hit the "pray" button instead of walking into church especially during the pandemic as it "opens a line of communication."
Some are still skeptical about Facebook's security and privacy, especially when it knows one's gender, birthday, and location, data that they use to serve advertisements relevant to the user. But for Muslim chaplain Adeel Zeb of the Claremont Colleges in California, Facebook's new prayer tool is a "vital initiative" for people of faith, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Zeb argued however, that social media companies like Facebook must be responsible and "initiate proper precautions and protocols to ensure the safety of religiously marginalized communities."
In Brunswick, Ohio, St. Ambrose Catholic Parish pastor Rev. Bob Stec thought positively of Facebook's new prayer tool, but believes that people must have an "authentic community" of prayer in which people "join our voices and hands in prayer" and "stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and walk through great moments and challenges together."
According to FOX5, Facebook's "2020 Year in Review" saw consumers using the social media platform "to build and maintain" their faith and community despite lockdown mandates and social distancing rules. Facebook said in a blog post, "During this uncertain time, we want to equip you with the online tools and information to continue inspiring people and give them hope."