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Facebook Posts Prayers? Heavens, No!

August 13th, 2021 by dk

On June 17, 2016, I suggested in this space that Facebook could build community by adding a button indicating prayer on each posting. Users regularly ask for recommendations, so why not prayers? Not every problem is remedied with advice. Sometimes solidarity is what we need most. Prayer has a long history of providing that.

Five years later, Facebook is testing such a feature. “Prayer posts” are being offered to a subset of Facebook groups. Group administrators must first opt in, which then allows members to post prayer requests in the group. Members can then click a “pray” button to let the original poster know they have prayed for their request.

As I wrote five years ago, “Prayer is expressed in words, but what it expresses is more than words. Addressed to an almighty force that connects everything, it expresses both deferential humility and determined resolve. Prayer articulates intent. It prepares us for action. The posture of prayer is readiness.”

Over the last 30 years, I’ve written more than 2,000 columns for this and other publications — slightly more than a million published words. Over that span, I may have once or twice failed to think something all the way through. (I’m feeling you, Nick Kristof!) This was one of those instances.

I’m having second thoughts. Not about prayer, which I still believe does all those things for us and to us that I described half a decade ago. My recent reticence concerns surveillance capitalism and Facebook’s ability (and willingness) to monetize our hopes and fears.

In times of mortifying fear or ineffable joy, we humans have a redemptive urge to submit to a higher power. That’s a good thing — maybe the one good thing — about humanity. Allowing those urges to be bought and sold is anything but that.

Facebook was quick to respond to critics who wondered how prayer requests would be used by its algorithms to increase engagement. The company assured users that the information wouldn’t be made available to advertisers. But of course it’s not that simple. Prayer requests for a new job then become the topic of later conversations.

So a posted prayer request for a new couch won’t instantly be “answered” with ads from furniture stores. That’s some cold comfort. But Facebook has made no promises that its own algorithm won’t quickly favor friends’ posts about coffee tables and reading lamps. “Facebook loves you and has a wonderful plan for your living room.”

What happens when Facebook-fueled prayers go unanswered? Will the company as interceder-in-chief be faulted for an unannounced power outage? If our hopes are sent to the cloud, have they been properly backed up first? Why does Mark Zuckerberg, whose current net worth is $125.2 billion, allow pain and suffering in this world?

Submitting to a higher power might seem like a thoroughly anti-modern ideal. But look at us, marveling at wealth that seems to have no upper limit. Come to think of it, Zuckerberg has been conspicuously absent from the gaggle of Internet titans racing to space. He may have a plan to occupy heaven instead.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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