Facebook still mum on what happened
CARROLL GARDENS — For the first time since Jan. 22, Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen parish “live-streamed” its daily Mass on Facebook Wednesday, Feb. 3.
Facebook had blocked the parish last month for reasons that remained unclear Wednesday. The social media platform has not responded to media requests to explain the reason for blocking the parish’s daily Mass.
Parishioner and technical volunteer José San Juan announced Wednesday morning that streaming Mass on Facebook had resumed.
“As of 7:50 a.m.,” he said in an email, “we are broadcasting live on FB!”
The regularly scheduled morning Mass streamed on time at 8:30 a.m. on Facebook, with pastor Msgr. Guy Massie, the celebrant.
Parishioners rejoiced in many of the 145 posts to the comments section of the Mass.
“So nice to be back on. Missed this,” a woman wrote.
Another posted, “So happy you are back!!! It was lonely not seeing everyone.”
Although it remained unclear Wednesday morning why the daily Mass was blocked, a Facebook spokeswoman said in a brief statement Monday evening that “limits” that kept parish from broadcasting had ceased.
The spokeswoman apologized for the inconvenience. But the emailed statement had no explanation for the limits or how to avoid them in the future.
Meanwhile, digital volunteers at the parish remained confused over the nearly two-week restriction on streaming Mass on Facebook.
“Facebook says they’re working on it, but they haven’t given us specifics,” said John-Mark De Palma, a parishioner, and volunteer digital consultant. He works with San Juan and others to keep the parish’s digital content moving.
On Tuesday afternoon, De Palma speculated that a Facebook algorithm to prevent spam might have flagged the parish’s account. He explained that it happens when an account has an unusually high volume of posts.
He added that the parish, whenever it encountered a technical problem, routinely restarted the streaming, which may have caused that unusual volume of posts.
“Maybe that triggered an algorithm on the Facebook side,” De Palma said. “If so, our broadcast probably matched up to whatever parameters they use.”
Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen parish has relied on the streaming Mass since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S. nearly a year ago.
The parish’s daily Mass audience has viewers all over the U.S. and the world, including Ecuador, Poland, Italy, England, Germany, Australia, and India, De Palma said.
“Suddenly, in the comments section, you’ll see a ‘good morning’ from Munich or Naples,” De Palma said. “That’s amazing.”
San Juan described how DeSales Media, the Diocese of Brooklyn’s communication and technology arm, installed new cameras for the Mass. DeSales operates The Tablet weekly newspaper and NET-TV, which broadcasts Currents News.
“As a team, we’ve worked together to transform the parish into an agile and responsive environment for digital evangelization across the diocese and regionally,” De Palma said. “We broadcast our Masses, prayer services, and rosary on four platforms to meet the people where they are most comfortable.”
Besides Facebook, the parish works with YouTube, the parish website (sacredhearts-ststephen.com/live-stream), and directly on BoxCast live streaming service.
“Most of our parishioners and extended parish family prefer Facebook,” De Palma said. “If an individual likes or follows our parish (Facebook) page, they will receive an alert when we go live.”
Otherwise, he explained, people find the Mass in the section of the live videos of Facebook or learn about it from other people who share the broadcasts.
“We also create Facebook events and send email notifications about upcoming broadcasts,” De Palma said.
But on Jan. 22, the volunteers saw that the live stream failed to show up on Facebook. Meanwhile, de Palma said, the Mass did appear on YouTube, BoxCast, and the parish webpage.
“Workarounds” were developed by the digital team to keep the Mass available, De Palma said.
For example, the team posted BoxCast links to the Mass on the Facebook page. But that is not the same as live streaming on Facebook — a significant concern for the team.
“In a real practical sense, the whole point of broadcasting is to reach your audience, but also to evangelize,” De Palma said. “As Christians, you’re sharing the Good News — the Gospel.”
Msgr. Massie said Friday that he had hoped the problem was technical and not an attempt to muzzle Catholics.
In recent weeks, national news has been replete with reports of social media companies suspending some people’s accounts, including former president Donald Trump. The companies said they were trying to prevent posts laced with language that could incite political violence, such as the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
“I tend not to subscribe to conspiracy theories or anti-Catholic ideas,” Msgr. Massie said.
But, he noted that some parishioners remain wary of anyone who would try to prevent a Mass from being available to the public.
San Juan said that he has worried about censorship without a more precise explanation from Facebook. In his three decades of working with technology, he hadn’t seen anything like what had happened to his parish’s Facebook account.
“There’s nothing that we feel has stepped over any bounds except for maybe the amount of time we’ve broadcast,” San Juan told Currents News. “But even then, there are no guidelines, no stipulations, so if there are now, please tell us.”
Editor’s Note: The article includes reporting from Jessica Easthope of Currents News.