Religion is the number one topic on Facebook – again

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – For all the talk that America is becoming a less religious nation, religion – primarily as it relates to politics – was again the most popular topic of discussion on Facebook as 2015 drew to a close.

The Hill reports, based on data captured by Facebook from Dec. 13 to Jan. 12, that discussion of religion and its role in political issues surged on the world's most popular social media platform as primary contests heated up and the Republican candidates engaged each other in the debate season (including during last Thursday night's debate).

Religious topics that garnered significant attention included the rise of the Islamic State, gun control and economic issues. The biggest winner, if success in politics is measured purely by how much a candidate is discussed, was Republican Donald Trump.

According to Facebook, religious discussion increased as Trump called for a ban on the admission of all Muslims into the United States.

"Trump remains the most talked-about candidate on Facebook by a wide margin. Almost 19 million people generated 105,140,000 interactions — a mix shares, comments, likes and posts — about the candidate in the month leading up to Tuesday. That's a decrease from the period leading up to December's debate, when 23.3 million people generated 115,930,000 interactions about Trump," The Hill reports.

During the company's last measurement period, Republican Ben Carson was a hot topic after claiming he did not believe a Muslim should serve as president of the United States.

While the measurements provided by Facebook do not assess whether religious commentaries related to candidates like Trump or Carson are favorable or unfavorable, they nonetheless expose the powerful tool Facebook has become in the global marketplace of ideas.

Katie Harbath, Facebook's director of global politics and government outreach, told Vogue magazine in December that the U.S. presidential election received the most attention on the social media site in 2015, but other topics, such as the refugee crisis, ISIS, marriage equality and Black Lives Matter – all topics with religious angles – were close behind.

"It's something I've seen evolve over the last five or six years," Harbath said. "People have gotten a lot more comfortable to post and have these discussions about politics."

In 2014, rumors surfaced that Facebook itself had grown weary of religious discussions on its site after an article appeared in The National Report, in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was said to have been flooded with complaints from atheists about religious people using the social media site for less-than-"adult" discussions. According to the report, Zuckerberg then decided to ban talk of religion on the site.

However, both Politifact and Snopes.com, the Internet myth busting site, reported that the rumors of a religion ban on Facebook were false. The National Report is a satirical newssite.