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IMAM TAHIR ANWAR OF THE SOUTH BAY ISLAMIC ASSOCIATION in California said his community raised record funds by using Facebook Live during Ramadan last year.

In June, Facebook executives pitched their efforts to religious groups at a virtual faith summit. Sheryl Sandburg, the company's chief operating officer, shared an online resource hub with tools to build congregations on the platform.

'' Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection,'' Ms. Sandberg said.

''Our hope is that one day people will host religious services in virtual reality spaces as well, or use augmented reality as an educational tool to teach their children the story of their faith,'' she said.

Bishop Robert Barron, founder of an influential Catholic media company, said Facebook ''gave people kind of an intimate experience of the Mass that they wouldn't normally have.''

The collaborations raise not only practical questions but also philosophical and moral ones. Religion has long been a fundamental way that humans have formed a community, and now social media companies are stepping into that role.

Facebook has nearly three billion active monthly users, making it larger than Christianity worldwide, which has about 2.3 billion adherents, or Islam, which has 1.8 billion.

There are privacy worries, too, as people share some of their most intimate life details with their spiritual communities. The potential for Facebook to gather valuable user information creates   ''enormous'' concerns, said Sarah Lane Ritchie, a lecturer in theology and science at the University of Edinburgh.

The goals of businesses and worshipping communities are different, she said, and many congregations, often with older members, may not understand how they can be targeted with advertising or other messages based on their religious engagement.

''Corporations are not worried about moral codes,'' she said. '' I don't think we know yet all the ways in which this marriage between Big Tech and the church will play out.''

A Facebook spokeswoman said the data it collected from religious communities would not be handled the same way as that of other users, and that nondisclosure agreements were standard process for all partners involved in product development.

Many of the Facebook's partnerships involve asking religious organizations to test or brainstorm new products, and those groups seem undeterred by Facebook's larger controversies. This year Facebook tested a prayer feature, where members of some Facebook groups can post prayer requests and others can respond.

The creator of YouVersion, the popular Bibleapp, worked with the company to test it.

Facebook's outreach was the first time a major technology company wanted to collaborate on a development project, said Robby Gruenewald, YouVersion's creator and a pastor at Life.Church in Oklahoma, recalling how he also worked with Facebook on Bible-verse-a-day feature in 2018.

''Obviously there are different ways they ultimately, I am sure, will serve their shareholders,'' he said. ''From our vantage point, Facebook is a platform that allows us to build community, and connect with our community and accomplish our mission. So it serves, I think, everybody well.''

The Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.] was invited to be a Facebook faith partner in December, said Melody Smith, a spokeswoman for the domination's missions agency. The denomination agreed in a contract that it would have no ownership of any products it helps Facebook design, she said.

Leaders of the Church of God in Christ, a largely African American Pentecostal denomination of roughly six million members worldwide, recently received early access to several of Facebook's monetization features, offering them new revenue streams, said the denomination's social media manager, Angela Clinton-Joseph.

They decided to try two Facebook tools : subscriptions where users pay, for example $9.99 per month and receive exclusive content, like messages from the bishop; and another tool for worshippers watching services online to send donations in real time. Leaders decided against a third feature : advertisements during video streams.

The pandemic accelerated existing dynamics, packing years of technology development into one, said Bob Pritchett, who founded Faithlife, a Christian ministry platform with a suite of online services.

But spiritual life is different from the personal and professional spaces occupied by Facebook and LinkedIn, he said.

It is dangerous to have your community anchored ''on a tech platform that is susceptible to all whims of politics and culture and congressional hearings,'' he said.

To sum, Virtual religious life is not replacing in-person community anytime soon, and even supporters acknowledge the limits of an exclusively online experience. But many religious groups see new opportunity to spiritually influence even more people on Facebook, the world's largest and arguably the most influential social media company.

The partnerships reveal how Big Tech and religion are converging far beyond simply beyond services to the Internet. Facebook is shaping the future of religious experience itself, as it has done for political and social life.

But the company's effort to court faith groups comes as it is trying to repair its image among Americans who have lost confidence in the platform, especially on the issues of privacy.

Facebook has faced scrutiny for its role in the country's growing disinformation crisis and breakdown of societal trust, especially around politics, and regulators have grown concerned about its outsize power.

The Honor and serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on Big Tech, Business and Religion Online, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Elizabeth Dias. 

With respectful dedication to Mankind, and then Students, Professors and Teachers of the World. See Ya all prepare and register for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter - !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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