The Internet Is Making Us Angry, Thoughtless, and Less Truthful

The internet is killing us.

It hasn’t been a swift death, like something inflicted by a trained, Jason Bourne-like assassin. Rather, it’s been happening slowly, over the last 15 years or so. Death by inches. Or comments.

It’s the tired cliche of the frog being boiled slowly to death…

…except we’re the ones who keep turning up the heat…and we’re the frog.

It started when blogs were invented, allowing anyone to post anything about any subject – a person, a political situation, their own life.

When comments were added to blogs, the digital necrosis sped up.

Now with social media, we’re approaching the terminal stage of the disease. We all carry weapons in our pockets, and I’m not talking about guns.

I’m talking about our phones.

Essentially, anything and everything can be shared. Photos, articles, sound files, music, petitions, and a million other digital items can be instantly splashed on the internet and shared with thousands of friends.

You would think this would be a good thing. The democratizing of information and such.

But I’m increasingly convinced that it’s significantly hurting those of us who follow Christ (and everyone else, but I’m concerned primarily with Christians here).

I realize that this sounds crazy alarmist, like a guy on a street corner proclaiming the end of the world. You probably think I have a bulletin board in my house with news clippings pinned to it and pieces of string connecting the clippings.

But I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think I am.

Let me explain.

My Life In The Digital World

I’m writing this as a Christian who lives every day smack dab in the middle of the internet.

Most people don’t know this, but my I’m a full-time freelance marketing writer. Lord willing, I will someday have the opportunity to go back into pastoral ministry, but at the moment, this is where God has me.

I’ve also been blogging for over ten years, and have seen up close how it’s changed.

When I first started, there was no social sharing. Facebook was relatively new and Twitter wasn’t even on the map yet. Instagram and Pinterest were still several years away.

Because of my job and my history, I understand how the internet (e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) works. I spend a lot of time trying to understand how the internet ecosystem functions and what will help my clients get visibility for their brands.

Here’s what you need to know: it’s intentionally designed to kill you.

I’m not kidding.

The internet is intentionally designed to kill you. Click to Tweet

Everything Is A House Of Cards

The very structures which sustain sites like Facebook and blogs like Breitbart and The Huffington Post (it doesn’t matter which political spectrum you’re on) are dangerous.

Let me break it down for you.

Don’t get bored here, because this is really important and it touches you EVERY SINGLE DAY.

99% of large websites make money from advertising. These sites get paid either based on the number of times an ad is viewed or clicked.

This means that the more page views they get, the more money they make. This is why so many sites spread their content across multiple pages. They want you to see as many ads as possible.

Even more critically, this reality determines the type of content they post on their sites.

They want to publish content that will get TONS of page views. They want their content to go viral, and they make publishing decisions based on what they think will get the most traffic.

What types of content get the most traffic? Think about it for a second. When you’re scrolling through Facebook, what jumps out at you? What do you click on? What do you share?

If you’re like most people, you share things that get an emotional reaction from you and will probably get an emotional reaction from other people. Boring stuff doesn’t get shared. Well-reasoned, middle of the road pieces die in obscurity.

Shock and anger and snark get attention and Likes and shares, but not reasonableness and thoughtfulness.

A study by the Marketing Science Institute all the way back in 2010 confirmed this. First, they noted that positive news tends to be more viral than negative.

But then they said this:

Brand transgressions that evoke anxiety or anger, for example, may be more likely to be shared than those that evoke sadness; this suggests that companies may want to take a more active role in managing situations that evoke these emotions.

Did you catch that? Sadness won’t get shared, but anger and anxiety sure will. And I think this is increasingly true. The alt-right massively capitalized on this in the 2016 election, using anger and anxiety to help fuel Donald Trump’s win.

Here’s what all this means: In order to survive, websites need to constantly publish content that will provoke heavy emotion. Be controversial or outraged or hilarious or sexual.

But whatever you do…don’t be boring.

Truth isn’t as important as emotion. Reality isn’t as important as how many page views will be generated.

Every part of what’s published, from the headline to the quotes to the conclusion is intended to emotionally manipulate you in some way. The sites want you to click and they want you to share.

And social media platforms only amplify this cycle.

Facebook has explicitly said, numerous times, that what they care about most is engagement. They want you on their site as long as possible, liking things, making comments, and watching videos.

To keep you on their site, they’ve crafted their news feed algorithm so that it shows you the content that’s getting the most engagement. The most discussion. The most shares and likes and interaction.

What sort of content gets the most engagement? The kind that is emotionally manipulative. Talking about what you ate for lunch won’t generate many comments. Pontificating about a school shooting will.

We Are The Willing Victims

None of this would matter if we didn’t gladly participate in this wicked cycle. But we have been unwittingly trained by social media platforms to share things that will get a response.

If you post something and nobody comments or likes, you’re not going to post anything like that again. We are the dogs in Pavlov’s experiment.

Every time we get a like or a heart or a retweet, it feeds our sense of importance and actually causes a little shot of dopamine to be released in our brains. And so we unconsciously craft what we post so that it gets reactions.

We add inflammatory commentary. We share posts that reduce complex subjects to simple emotions like rage or cynicism or being flippant (if that’s an emotion).

Instead of taking time to wrestle Biblically with difficult subjects, we post a meme that reduces the entire thing to the lowest common denominator.

We are willingly becoming more angry, less thoughtful, less reasonable, and less truthful.

This shouldn’t be the case, especially for us who follow Christ.

We serve the One who is THE TRUTH and we are called to put away ALL falsehood.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, and patience, none of which make for good blog posts.

There are numerous Christian blogs that claim to be helping believers be more “discerning”. They write about rumors they heard about Christian leaders, all to “serve” the Christian body.

This is absolute crap.

They want page views, just like everybody else. Go look at their sites. What do you see? What do you know…ads! They’re in the game like everyone else.

We are willingly turning up the temperature on the stove, slowly boiling ourselves to death.

So What Should We Do?

So how do we respond as believers? Do we abandon social media and the internet altogether?

Not necessarily.

In Philippians 4:5, Paul says, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.”

The internet doesn’t reward reasonableness or nuance or deep thought. It rewards memes and hit pieces and anger and humor. It favors the things that are going to get the most reactions.

We can buck this trend by obeying Philippians 4:5.

We should stop and think two, three, or four times before we post.

Before we share anything, we should ask:

Does this content demonstrate my God-given reasonableness to the world?

Am I sharing truth or a clearly emotionally manipulative piece designed to get reactions? How can you tell? Just look at what emotions you’re feeling as you consume the content.

Am I reducing a complex issue (which is most important issues) to the lowest common denominator (memes do this frequently).

Am I encouraging the fruit of the Spirit in myself and others through what I share?

Does this content encourage Biblical reflection or knee-jerk reaction?

The internet can be a wonderful thing. When used rightly, it can be a tool to spread the glory of God.

But in order to use the internet rightly, we need to understand how it works. If we don’t, we’re prone to being manipulated and even led directly into sin.

Don’t let the internet kill you.

14 comments

  • Steven – Great post and I agree with you. However, let me challenge your premise slightly as it relates to the Christians and the Church. Is it possible that it is not just the internet that is killing us, but consumerism, evangelicalism and entertainment disguised as preaching? I would argue that everything you said about fear and anxiety being spread to sell something is true of the Church. Except here, it is easy believism that is spread and not a true understanding of the Gospel.

    • Hey Jeremy! Great thought. I think that’s certainly part of it. I think it’s more though. I think that we are willingly participating in an entire system that is designed to eventually tempt us to sin. Maybe that’s the consumerism part you’re talking about. I need to keep thinking about this!

  • Steven, you are so right. Gossip sells and most postings on Facebook and such sights are just that. We as Christians must stay away from spreading gossip and use the internet for sharing Jesus. When used as a means for sharing Jesus, it is a very useful tool. If we use the internet as a means of sharing Jesus and helping someone who does not know Jesus, come to a better understanding of Jesus and start a walk with Jesus, then we as a Christian have properly used the internet. Have a Blessed Day.

  • When I was little(13ish)…. I watched the Matrix… It shook me … I see the core message of the Matrix happening … As you say…slowly with internet, Facebook, Twitter, News, movies, series… I can go on and on…I am now big(46) and I have more understanding why that movie cut deep into my soul… … I stand strong on “I want to be in this world but not of this world”…. God bless you… Keep running the race in Jesus name. Amen.

    • The Matrix was released on year 1999 and you should be 27 at the time. Was there something similar when you were 13ish?

    • Yes you’re right! I didn’t even think of that. Of course, I can’t really use The Matrix as an illustration…because that’s been done a thousand times. But I think you’re right.

  • Apparently the writer is still part of the situation he tries to describe. He initially blames the internet, then the social networks, then the advertisements, and finally the users. The real problem is the trash, i.e. stuff that seems to be enlightening but it’s not (this article too). People bombard their brains with tons of information, which they don’t devote enough time to process, and most of which is trash. To avoid being trash too, this comment is going to list the basic steps for reducing trash:
    1. Install a good ad-blocker.
    2. Don’t participate in trash-recycling networks of any kind.
    That way there can be some time left to properly meditate on spiritual fruitfulness.

    • Hey John! Stephen here. I’m “the writer” ?.

      I definitely AM still part of the situation. Although I’m trying to fight against it. I’m trying to produce content that’s thoughtful and valuable, even if you didn’t think this was.

      I’m also trying to minimize how I use social media. I don’t think totally abstaining is the best solution though, because I think you can do good with it when used rightly.

      But thanks for your thoughts!

      • Hi wri…err…Stephen, nice to hear from you!

        “thanks for your thoughts!”
        Here are some more.

        “Am I sharing truth or a clearly emotionally manipulative piece designed to get reactions?”
        Whether designed or not, your article contains plenty of emotionally manipulative phrases. Here are two of them strategically placed at the beginning and the end of the article:
        “The internet is killing us.”
        “Don’t let the internet kill you.”
        Such phrases share confusion rather than truth.

        “in order to use the internet rightly, we need to understand how it works”
        Start by understanding the involved concepts. For example, look up the difference between the internet and the web. Some people got killed by breathing gas. Does this mean that breathing can kill you? Gas can kill you. And mental trash is killing the mind.

        “I think you can do good with it [social media] when used rightly”
        That’s exactly how traps work. Even in trash-cans there is some potential for good. Why to lose energy for a little good in a trash-can, rather than a lot good outside of it?

        “I’m trying to produce content that’s thoughtful and valuable”
        Try abstaining from the trash-recycling networks for a week. It will be the most productive week and overall quality time you had in a long time, guaranteed. Then raise the goal up to a lifetime.

        “I’m trying to fight against it”
        Nice words, but empty of essence. If you are up for a worthy fight, start by fighting your coffee addiction. Fighting is not about trying, it is about killing! If you believe that something is killing you, find out what it really is (don’t fight fellow victims) and kill it yourself first. Take Jesus’ words seriously: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!”

  • Steve, I totally agree with you. We as Christians need to be more discerning and wise when it comes to social media’s, blogs and other websites that we tend to view. The internet is a wonderful tool if used properly but a satanic tool if used improperly which Satan would love us to do.

  • A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bring forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bring forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speak. -Luke 6:45

    As Christians we are called to walk somberly, to take every thought captive, and to value others greater than ourselves. We’re also taught that we should protect our heart because from it flow the issues of life.

    Up until earlier this year I consumed a lot (and I do mean a lot) of Christian media (Internet, TV, radio, and books)– mostly Evangelical in bent. I subscribed to no less than a dozen Evangelical blogs and my library emailed an alert about every new Christian eBook and audio book it owned. I listened to Evangelical Christian radio to and fro in the car and would surf the “good” Christian networks on TV. I was hooked.

    Late last year I noticed an uptick in what I can only describe as “hate speech” emanating from numerous Evangelical Christian outlets. I’ve witnessed flaming wars on Christian blogs and websites where the participants used scripture to try to one up each other’s point of view. Even worse, I’ve read the comments under secular news articles where self-professing Christians angrily attack non-Christians or people they feel “deserve it.” The terms “snowflake” and “fake news” are flung at anyone who has a dissenting opinion.

    The hate, anger, and indifference towards “others” (especially racial or religious minorities) started to make me depressed and…angry. However, my anger was towards these Evangelicals themselves. I am a racial minority and I could actually feel the hatred and rage coming through the screen at times. I also found myself having to apologize for the tone and timber of a lot of well-known Evangelicals when trying to witness to people. I contacted one particularly angry Evangelical outlet to make them aware of how their commentary was being received by non-believers. The individual I spoke to was indifferent. At the end of our conversation I told the person I spoke with that I was disappointed in the responses I received regarding the rhetoric coming from their broadcast leader. She responded by asking me if I’d like to unsubscribe from their email list. I told her I did.

    I started to feel disillusioned and depressed about this. I turned to God in prayer. God led me to see that I needed disassociate with anything related to the Evangelical movement immediately and turn off 99% of all Christian media. I followed those promptings. I unsubscribed from all blogs, listen to light jazz or classical music in the car, and spend more time reading my Bible. I allow myself 15 minutes of Christian blog reading each day from the outlets that I know are free of hate and anger. I feel much better. I am much better. My ability to witness to others CONFIDENTLY has returned because I no longer feel like a hypocrite for trying to excuse, cover up, or apologize for something (Evangelical rage) that truly is inexcusable, inexplicable, and shameful.

    I’ve been a Christian since I was 12 years old. Evangelical Internet and media was hurting me deeply. I can only imagine what it is doing to someone who is unsaved.

    Thank you for this post. It is well written and much needed. However, I’m sorry but I can’t blame marketing or even politics for the increased hate, anger, fear, and unacceptable online behavior I’m seeing in the Evangelical community. I think that this is just who these people truly are and the Internet, social media, talk radio, etc. is just providing them with a platform to vent their true nature. I believe these people know about Jesus but I do not believe they truly know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

    I agree that everyone should pause before they post. More importantly, I think that people need to examine their hearts. If your feelings and thoughts on a matter cause you to even consider posting something unkind, hateful, angry, self-serving, accusatory, inflammatory, or self-righteous then I think you need to step back and truly examine your own heart and your relationship with the Lord.

    Like most things in life, how we choose to use the Internet is a mirror into who we really are and who we really belong to.

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