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Facebook Introduces Prayer Tool in Groups to Attract the Faithful

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By Associated Press | Updated: 9 August 2021

Facebook already asks for your thoughts. Now it wants your prayers.

The social media giant has rolled out a new prayer request feature, a tool embraced by some religious leaders as a cutting-edge way to engage the faithful online. Others are eyeing it warily as they weigh its usefulness against the privacy and security concerns they have with Facebook.

In Facebook Groups employing the feature, members can use it to rally prayer power for upcoming job interviews, illnesses, and other personal challenges big and small. After they create a post, other users can tap an “I prayed” button, respond with a “like” or other reaction, leave a comment or send a direct message.

Facebook began testing it in the US in December as part of an ongoing effort to support faith communities, according to a statement attributed to a company spokesperson.

“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,” it said.

The Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, a Southern Baptist megachurch, was among the pastors enthusiastically welcoming of the prayer feature.

“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, also was upbeat.

“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.

Under its data policy, Facebook uses the information it gathers in a variety of ways, including to personalize advertisements. But the company says advertisers are not able to use a person’s prayer posts to target ads.

The Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish in Brunswick, Ohio, said via email that on one hand, he sees the new feature as a positive affirmation of people’s need for an “authentic community” of prayer, support and worship.

But “even while this is a ‘good thing,’ it is not necessary the deeply authentic community that we need,” he said. “We need to join our voices and hands in prayer. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other and walk through great moments and challenges together.”

Stec also worried about privacy concerns surrounding the sharing of deeply personal traumas.

“Is it wise to post everything about everyone for the whole world to see?” he said. “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.”

However, Jacki King, the minister to women at Second Baptist Conway, a Southern Baptist congregation in Conway, Arkansas, sees a potential benefit for people who are isolated amid the pandemic and struggling with mental health, finances and other issues.

“They’re much more likely to get on and make a comment than they are to walk into a church right now,” King said. “It opens a line of communication.”

Bishop Paul Egensteiner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod said he has been dismayed by some aspects of Facebook but welcomes the feature, which bears similarities to a digital prayer request already used by the synod’s churches.

“I hope this is a genuine effort from Facebook to help religious organisations advance their mission,” Egensteiner said. “I also pray that Facebook will continue improving its practices to stop misinformation on social media, which is also affecting our religious communities and efforts.”

The Rev. Thomas McKenzie, who leads Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican congregation in Nashville, Tennessee, said he wanted to hate the feature — he views Facebook as willing to exploit anything for money, even people’s faith.

But he thinks it could be encouraging to those willing to use it: “Facebook’s evil motivations might have actually provided a tool that can be for good.”

His chief concern with any Internet technology, he added, is that it can encourage people to stay physically apart even when it is unnecessary.

“You cannot participate fully in the body of Christ online. It’s not possible,” McKenzie said. “But these tools may give people the impression that it’s possible.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said he understood why some people would view the initiative skeptically.

“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,” he said. “We’ve all been using the chat function for something like this — sharing who we are praying for.”

Crossroads Community Church, a nondenominational congregation in Vancouver, Washington, saw the function go live about 10 weeks ago in its Facebook Group, which has roughly 2,500 members.

About 20 to 30 prayer requests are posted each day, eliciting 30 to 40 responses apiece, according to Gabe Moreno, executive pastor of ministries. Each time someone responds, the initial poster gets a notification.

Deniece Flippen, a moderator for the group, turns off the alerts for her posts, knowing that when she checks back she will be greeted with a flood of support.

Flippen said that unlike with in-person group prayer, she doesn’t feel the Holy Spirit or the physical manifestations she calls the “holy goosebumps.” But the virtual experience is fulfilling nonetheless.

“It’s comforting to see that they’re always there for me and we’re always there for each other,” Flippen said.

Members are asked on Fridays to share which requests got answered, and some get shoutouts in the Sunday morning livestreamed services.

Moreno said he knows Facebook is not acting out of purely selfless motivation — it wants more user engagement with the platform. But his church’s approach to it is theologically based, and they are trying to follow Jesus’ example.

“We should go where the people are,” Moreno said. “The people are on Facebook. So we’re going to go there.”

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TRUTH Social: Donald Trump Launches His Own Social Media App to ‘Stand Up to Big Tech’

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By Reuters | Updated: 21 October 2021

Former US President Donald Trump will launch his own social media app, TRUTH Social, that he said would “stand up to Big Tech” companies such as Twitter and Facebook that have barred him from their platforms.

TRUTH Social will be created through a new company formed by a merger of the Trump Media and Technology Group and a special acquisition company (SPAC), according to a press release distributed by both organisations.

“We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favourite American President has been silenced. This is unacceptable,” Trump said in a written statement included in the release.

“I am excited to send out my first TRUTH on TRUTH Social very soon. TMTG was founded with a mission to give a voice to all. I’m excited to soon begin sharing my thoughts on TRUTH Social and to fight back against Big Tech,” he said.

The social network, set for a beta launch next month and full rollout in the first quarter of 2022, is the first of three stages in the company’s plans, followed by a subscription video-on-demand service called TMTG+ that will feature entertainment, news, and podcasts, according to the news release.

In a slide deck on its website, the company envisions eventually competing against Amazon’s AWS cloud service and Google Cloud.

A Trump representative who declined to be named confirmed the contents of the TMTG news release to Reuters. Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington also tweeted a copy.

“For so long, Big Tech has suppressed conservative voices,” the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., told Fox News in an interview. “Tonight my father signed a definitive merger agreement to form what will ultimately be the Trump Media and Technology Group and TRUTH Social – a platform for everyone to express their feelings.”

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms banned Trump from their services after hundreds of his supporters rioted at the US Capitol on January 6.

That protest came after a speech by Trump in which he falsely claimed that his November election loss was due to widespread fraud, an assertion rejected by multiple courts and state election officials.

The deal will list Trump Media & Technology Group on Nasdaq through a merger with Digital World Acquisition, a blank-check acquisition firm led by former investment banker Patrick Orlando.

Trump Media & Technology Group will receive $293 million (roughly Rs. 2,190 crores) in cash that Digital World Acquisition had in trust, assuming no shareholder of the acquisition firm chooses to redeem their shares, according to the statement.

Orlando, who has worked at Deutsche Bank and BT Capital Markets, has launched at least four SPACs and has plans for two more, according to his firm’s website and regulatory filings.

But none of the SPACs have completed a deal yet. A China-based SPAC that Orlando led failed last month to complete a merger with Giga Energy that would have valued the transportation solutions provider at $7.3 billion (roughly Rs. 54,650 crores), because it could not deliver the cash required, according to regulatory filings.

Shareholder redemptions reduce the amount of cash that Digital World Acquisition will have available to give to Trump Media & Technology Group at the closing of the deal.

The companies said in the statement that the completion of the merger is subject to redemptions not exceeding an agreed minimum cash requirement. The statement did not disclose what the requirement is, though that detail is typically contained in a regulatory filing that should follow on Thursday.

The deal values Trump Media & Technology Group at $875 million (roughly Rs. 6,550 crores), including debt, according to the news release.

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Login to God: Vatican Relaunches ‘Click to Pray’ App to Help the Faithful to Connect ‘Prayer With the World’

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 20 October 2021

It’s so secular, clicking to order food, clicking to buy shoes or clicking to reserve tickets. Pope Francis wants you to click to pray. The Click to Pray app is being relaunched, the Vatican said Tuesday, permitting more Catholic faithful to “connect your prayer with the world”.

Francis, 84, is no stranger to social media – he has a whopping 19 million Twitter followers and 8.3 million on Instagram and a high tolerance for selfies – and has acknowledged that social networks can be an “opportunity to promote encounter with others”.

Since it first appeared in 2016, the social media app has been downloaded by more than 2.5 million people, offering daily prayers and messages from the pope, while allowing users to send prayers to others.

Click to Pray 2.0 will be launched November 1 after a test period on beta users comprised of cloistered monks and nuns around the world, Vatican officials said.
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The new version – available in seven languages – offers more individualisation, allowing users to set an agenda to schedule prayers, provides more in-depth background about specific prayers and also links to Vatican-approved outside initiatives such as Tweeting with God.

“The idea is to be able to use it (the new app) and give an instrument to people to pray, to be in communion,” Monsignor Lucio Ruiz, secretary of the Dicastery for Communication, which oversees the Holy See’s entire communication network, told AFP.

Asked whether the app was launched to counteract declining church attendance in the West, he said it was “not a replacement for something”.

“It’s understanding culture, reading it and listening and seeing where we are, to be able to be there,” Ruiz said. “Because where people are, the Church must be.”

Log-in to God

On Tuesday, the app’s community page listed a host of prayers from around the world, with headlines such as “Please pray for my daughter”, “Prayer for my sick mother” and even one “for my career”.

After creating a profile, a user can organise a prayer agenda, choosing content and setting notifications and reminders to pray during the day.

“With Jesus in the morning – Start your day” reads the caption on the app for a morning prayer, while an evening prayer is under the title “Contemplate and rest”.

The new version was launched to coincide with the opening of the Synod, a global assembly of Catholic church leaders on the theme “Communion, Participation, and Mission”, expected to last until 2023.

Besides social media, the Vatican has multiple traditional media resources to spread the Church’s message to the 1.3 billion Catholics around the world, including the Holy See’s official website, a daily newspaper and a radio.

But outside Saint Peter’s Basilica Tuesday, no European visitors approached by AFP had heard of the app.

On the Google Play Store, most users gave the app five stars, although some cited glitches, especially of having to sign in repeatedly.

One user gave the app one star, saying: “God knows who I am, why should I need to identify to the Pope, too?”

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Snap Launches Arcadia Studio to Create Augmented Reality Advertisements

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By Reuters | Updated: 20 October 2021

Snap said on Tuesday it is launching a studio to help brands create augmented reality advertising and experiences, part of a move to popularise the use of technology that can overlay computer-generated images onto a person’s view of the real world.

The owner of photo messaging app Snapchat first became popular with young users for its early forms of augmented reality (AR), such as photo filters that could superimpose dog ears onto a person’s photo, or add a dancing hot dog to a video.

Snap has since staked its future on advancing the technology, launching AR-enabled eyewear and acquiring startups that develop technology to allow users to virtually try on clothing.

The new studio, Arcadia, will help brands build AR experiences not just for Snapchat, but any other social media apps or websites where it wants to place content, said Jeff Miller, global head of creative strategy at Snap.

“The goal is to push the boundaries of what’s possible in AR,” he said.

P&G Beauty, Verizon Communications, and entertainment company WWE are Arcadia’s first clients of record, meaning the studio will handle the brands’ AR work and strategy, Snap said.

Arcadia, which will operate as a division of Snap, will also work with companies in a project-based capacity, or provide advice to brands and ad agencies through workshops, it said.

Snap will announce a leader for Arcadia in the coming weeks, and the division is expected to have between 25 to 50 employees within the next few months, Miller said.

On Monday Arcadia launched its first AR project with fast-food chain Shake Shack at one of the its New York restaurants.

Visitors to the restaurant can open the Snapchat app and scan a code which will let them virtually try on “Snap Shack” branded clothing and purchase items on their phone, or to see a dancing cheeseburger, hot dog and french fry in the restaurant.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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TikTok, Snapchat, Other Video Sharing Platforms Must Do More to Protect Users: UK Regulator

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

Online video sharing platforms (VSPs), such as TikTok, Snapchat and OnlyFans, need to provide clear rules on content, allow users to flag harmful videos, and restrict access to pornographic material, Britain’s media regulator Ofcom said.

Under laws that came into effect in Britain last year, VSPs must take appropriate steps to protect all of their users from illegal material, with a particular focus on under 18s.

Ofcom, which is responsible for enforcing the rules, published guidance for VSPs on Wednesday, saying it wanted to see noticeable improvements over time in safety processes and complaint procedures.

Chief Executive Melanie Dawes said online video played a huge role in people’s lives, particularly for children, but many users saw hateful, violent or inappropriate material while using them.

“The platforms where these videos are shared now have a legal duty to take steps to protect their users,” she said.

“So we’re stepping up our oversight of these tech companies, while also gearing up for the task of tackling a much wider range of online harms in the future.”

Ofcom said its research showed that a third of users said they had witnessed or experienced hateful content; a quarter claimed they’d been exposed to violent or disturbing content; while one in five had seen content that encouraged racism.

The regulator’s remit covers platforms established in Britain, numbering 18 initially. Platforms established in other countries, such as YouTube and Facebook, are excluded.

If it finds a VSP had failed to take appropriate measures to protect users, it will be able to investigate and take action, including fines or — in the most serious cases — suspending or restricting the service.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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WhatsApp Outage Hits Trading in Assets From Crypto to Russian Oil

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By Reuters | Updated: 6 October 2021

WhatsApp’s nearly six-hour long outage on Monday hit trading of assets from cryptocurrencies to Russian oil, market players said, although a quick shift to alternative platforms such as Telegram limited severe disruption.

Despite many financial institutions discouraging employees from using messaging services such as WhatsApp and other Facebook platforms that went down on Monday, their convenience has made them popular among traders communicating with clients in over-the-counter (OTC) markets.

Facebook blamed a “faulty configuration change” for the outage that hit WhatsApp, as well as Instagram and Messenger, in the largest ever outage tracked by web monitoring group Downdetector.

Among those affected was BCB Group, a London-based crypto firm that offers OTC trading as well as other services. Facebook’s services went dark at around noon Eastern time (1600 GMT), a key window for BCB’s traders.

“The WhatsApp outage hit us in our busiest trading period where we face US counterparties,” said Chief Executive Oliver von-Landsberg Sadie.

“Day-on-day volume was down 15 percent on the average daily, which we’re internally attributing to the connectivity issues. Telegram and Slack-based trading was on par with daily averages.”

WhatsApp usage among financial traders tracked by communications surveillance firm VoxSmart has boomed as banks accept that clients want to use the platform, even if bosses prefer their staff to use official messaging channels, VoxSmart CEO Oliver Blower said.

The app has become the “default messaging service” in many markets, especially in continental Europe and Asia-Pacific, Blower added.

From some 2,000 interdealer users sending 10,000 messages a day in the energy market in 2016, VoxSmart today tracks between three and five million messages weekly across asset classes, including between banks and buy-side clients.

“What’s interesting is both the volume and the content of the messages. It’s not just, what time are you headed to ‘The Dog and Duck’, it’s, what’s your price on a 5-year?,” said Blower, using slang for a British pub.

WhatsApp to Telegram

Still, the prevalence of messenger services beyond WhatsApp meant Monday’s outage was a nuisance rather than a major disruption.

In India, for example, market chatter on WhatsApp has moved to Telegram where there are fewer restrictions on the size of group chats. The outage also came after markets had closed in much of Asia, limiting any impact.

In the Middle East, “crypto OTC trading is predominately on Telegram or WhatsApp, where you ask your OTC brokers for bid and offer, and then you hit it and they’ll confirm the transaction,” said Zachary Cefaratti, CEO of Dubai investment platform Dalma Capital, adding that Telegram was becoming more widely used.

OTC traders in oil markets were also hit, though again the blow was softened by the use of other platforms.

In Russia, oil traders said WhatsApp was commonly used to communicate details on orders across Europe and Asia. Monday’s outage was an “unpleasant surprise”, one Europe-based trader said.

“It was not nice. Everybody uses it. But we use alternative messengers too, so switched,” said another.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Facebook Blames ‘Faulty Configuration Change’ for Nearly Six-Hour Outage

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By Reuters | Updated: 5 October 2021

Facebook blamed a “faulty configuration change” for a nearly six-hour outage on Monday that prevented the company’s 3.5 billion users from accessing its social media and messaging services such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.

The company in a late Monday blog post did not specify who executed the configuration change and whether it was planned.

Several Facebook employees who declined to be named had told Reuters earlier that they believed that the outage was caused by an internal mistake in how Internet traffic is routed to its systems.

The failures of internal communication tools and other resources that depend on that same network in order to work compounded the error, the employees said. Security experts have said an inadvertent mistake or sabotage by an insider were both plausible.
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“We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change,” Facebook said in the blog.

The Facebook outage is the largest ever tracked by Web monitoring group Downdetector.

The outage was the second blow to the social media giant in as many days after a whistleblower on Sunday accused the company of repeatedly prioritizing profit over clamping down on hate speech and misinformation.

As the world flocked to competing apps such as Twitter and TikTok, shares of Facebook fell 4.9 percent, their biggest daily drop since last November, amid a broader selloff in technology stocks on Monday. Shares rose about half a percent in after-hours trade following resumption of service.

“To every small and large business, family, and individual who depends on us, I’m sorry,” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer tweeted, adding that it “may take some time to get to 100 percent.”

“Facebook basically locked its keys in its car,” tweeted Jonathan Zittrain, director of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

Twitter on Monday reported higher-than-normal usage, which led to some issues in people accessing posts and direct messages.

In one of the day’s most popular tweets, video streaming company Netflix shared a meme from its new hit show Suid Game captioned “When Instagram & Facebook are down,” that showed a person labeled “Twitter” holding up a character on the verge of falling labeled “everyone.”

Inside a Facebook group for advertisement buyers, one member wisecracked after service returned that “lots of people searched today ‘how to run google ads for clients.'”

Facebook, which is the world’s largest seller of online advertisements after Google, was losing about $545,000 ( roughly Rs. 4 crores) in US advertisement revenue per hour during the outage, according to estimates from ad measurement firm Standard Media Index.

Past downtime at Internet companies has had little long-term affect on their revenue growth, however.

Facebook’s services, including consumer apps such as Instagram, workplace tools it sells to businesses and internal programmes, went dark noon Eastern time (9:30pm IST). Access started to return around 5:45pm ET (3:15am IST).

Soon after the outage started, Facebook acknowledged users were having trouble accessing its apps but did not provide any specifics about the nature of the problem or say how many users were affected.

The error message on Facebook’s webpage suggested an error in the Domain Name System (DNS), which allows Web addresses to take users to their destinations. A similar outage at cloud company Akamai Technologies took down multiple websites in July.

On Sunday, Frances Haugen, who worked as a product manager on the civic misinformation team at Facebook, revealed that she was the whistleblower who provided documents underpinning a recent Wall Street Journal investigation and a US Senate hearing last week on Instagram’s harm to teen girls.

Haugen was due to urge the same Senate subcommittee on Tuesday to regulate the company, which she plans to liken to tobacco companies that for decades denied that smoking damaged health, according to prepared testimony seen by Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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