I grew up in a small, conservative town in rural Pennsylvania. I went to a small, liberal college. I’ve worked at fashion magazines and also for government programs that kill invasive wild boars. Suffice it to say, my Facebook feed is an eclectic bunch—and many of my friends post things others might consider offensive, from screeds about gun control and false flag operations to anti-vaccine propaganda and thinly veiled racism. (Let’s not even bring up Candy Crush.) But if I’m being honest, the Jesus freaks are the worst.
I also have many Facebook friends who consider themselves religious and post tasteful, thoughtful references to their faith. But this blog post is not about them. It’s about a different, more insidious kind of Facebook post that’s become increasingly prevalent over the years. Last week, a post came across my feed asking if I believed in angels. OK, whatever, but for some reason this phrase caught my eye: “The angels are going to fix two (big) things in your favour.” But only if I shared the post and admitted that I believed in angels. At least the Facebook angels are generous—two miracles for the price of one click!
Like email chains of the late ’90s, these posts often promise something in return for a share or like. (“Repost if u beleive in God. And in 2 minutes he will do you a huge favor.” When it came up in my feed, this post had more than 78,000 shares.) Another popular tactic is to trot out pictures of kids with cancer, burn scars, or amputations with some sort of tenuous tie to divinity. (“Even in his suffering, he still loves Jesus! Like if you #love this boy.”)
But maybe worst of all are the posts that read like a recipe to boost a Klout score. “1 Like = 1,000,000 Thanks to Jesus for saving us! SHARE NOW IF YOU LOVE JESUS!” (147,000 likes, 6,000 shares.) “Type ‘Yes’ if you would help Jesus up!” (284,000 likes, 16,000 shares.) Often, these posts are accompanied by horrifying images of a bloodied Christ and guilt trips along the lines of, “I will click to THANK HIM. How many will click and Share with me???” (225,000 likes, 8,000 shares.)
These sorts of posts are the bread and butter of Facebook super group Jesus Daily. This page has almost 24 million likes—nearly three times as many as it had in 2011, when it was profiled in the New York Times. In user interactions, the site lambastes other pages like I F*cking Love Science, as well as other popular corporate pages like Manchester United and Disney. And while Bieber, Gaga, and Potter have more likes, their engagement with audiences pales in comparison with a site that recycles the same like-bait a few dozen times a day.
Aaron Tabor, a diet doctor from North Carolina, told the Times that he created Jesus Daily to provide encouragement for people battling cancer, fighting unemployment, and struggling with relationships—all of which is well and good. (For what it’s worth, I can’t find any evidence of Tabor using Jesus Daily to peddle his diet books or anti-aging crèmes.) But his “5-step easy daily plan”—which he encourages fans to post to their walls—hints at a larger payoff for liking and sharing posts. According to the Jesus Daily about page, “God will bless you for helping obey His command to preach the Gospel to everyone!”
Again, there are plenty of religious Facebook pages that post Scripture, raise awareness for causes, or work to make their friends think about what they can do to better themselves and the world. But I challenge you to find an ounce of substance on share-factories like Jesus Daily. Instead, you’ll find a mixture of torture porn and poverty voyeurism—with nary a suggestion for how to fix the world beyond typing “amen” in the comment box. And the spelling—oh, the spelling!
By all means, if you’re going to be religious, be religious. Feed the hungry, cure the diseased, and demand more from your social media. Because I’ll be really surprised if you get to heaven and Jesus has a tally of how many times you hit the “like” button or how many of Pope Francis’s tweets you favorited.