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Facebook users could outnumber Christians before the end of the year

  • Facebook could encompass one-third of the world's population by this time next year, according to New York magazine.
  • Senior Editor Max Read explores the influence of the social network at time when it is under fire over Russian political ads.
  • Read also says he feels "pretty confident" that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is not planning on running for president.

With 2 billion monthly active users and growing, Facebook could encompass one-third of the world's population by this time next year, according to New York magazine.

In a cover story in the current issue, Senior Editor Max Read explores the influence of Facebook at a time when the social network is under fire for allowing Russian groups to buy thousands of ads in an attempt to influence the 2016 president election.

"It is Orwellian ... in a sense that it is a surveillance company. The business model is to monitor you, to gather your data, and to create advertising categories," Read said Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Last month, Zuckerberg commented on the Russian ads, saying, "We are committed to rising to the occasion. Our sophistication in handling these threats is growing and improving quickly. We will continue working with the government to understand the full extent of Russian interference."

In his article, Read writes that Facebook users are "the single largest non-biologically sorted group of people on the planet after 'Christians' — and, growing consistently at around 17 percent year after year, it could surpass that group before the end of 2017."

According to the latest Pew Research Center demographic analysis, Christians remained the largest religious group in the world in 2015, with 2.3 billion followers.

"I use Facebook. I love Facebook. I've been on it for a decade-plus. It is an amazing invention in terms of its ability to keep people connected," Read told CNBC.

"[But] when you have that many people on one website; getting news from it, sharing news on it, talking to one and other, it's very easy to manipulate," he said. He added that Facebook lacks the controls, and the government has yet to regulate it to ensure "that accuracy, that responsibility is at the focus of the power."

This kind of concern was also expressed by NYU business school marketing professor Scott Galloway in his new book, "The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google." Galloway told CNBC on Wednesday that the ease in which Russia, using a credit card, "can pay in rubles to start advertising and sewing chaos here is probably the tipping point."

As Facebook continues to expand, Read said he believes co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn't even know how get his arms around it. "I think his heart is in the right place. I just think this thing has gotten so big that not even the nicest, not even a saint, could make it work for us."

Facebook was not immediately available to address CNBC's request for comment.

Read said he's spoken to people who have met Zuckerberg on his 2017 challenge to himself to visit every U.S. state that he hadn't been to yet. There's been speculation that this type of tour might be a sign that he may want to seek political office, possibly the presidency.

"I feel pretty confident he's not planning on running for president," Read said, believing this tour is about research and development. "I think he wants to meet with people who use Facebook to find out how they use it."

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