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How Viral Success Harms Your Humanity

April 3rd, 2024 | 3 min. read

By Ian Harber


The influencer economy has hit rock bottom, and it’s looking bleak down there. I’m sure we’ve all seen accounts like this on TikTok that went viral years ago for a joke and have been making the same joke ever since.

There are countless such examples on TikTok. Influencers who pop up in your feed with variations of the exact same video over and over again. Whether it’s jokes about work, “relatable” ADHD content, NPC grifters, exvangelical exposé-ers, or countless other kinds of content, more and more creators are getting stuck in feedback loops after a single piece of content goes viral.

In most cases, the creator initially puts out a sincere video that is legitimately funny, helpful, or heartfelt, and the algorithm rewards them for it with millions of views and tens of thousands of new followers. The dopamine hit from the tidal wave of positive feedback creates the desire to replicate it and have another hit. Chasing that high, the creators do the same thing but slightly different. Same format, different joke. Same grievance, different story. Same diagnosis, different symptom. Until the years pass by and you start to wonder how much of it is truly sincere anymore. Once the sponsorships start rolling in, you realize that what was once a sincere person putting something real on the internet has turned into a commodity to siphon your attention for profit.

Here’s another example of a similar creator who has realized he’s stuck in this feedback loop and is obviously losing his mind. I should mention that this creator did an ad for TMobile where he went out of his way to say how little he cared about selling their product and couldn’t believe they were paying him to make the ad.

The reality, of course, is that this doesn’t just happen with short-form videos. It happens on Twitter and with photographers on Instagram, lonely food influencers on YouTube, and any sort of content all over the internet. People find success in one thing and then go on to reproduce the success so many times that they lose themselves in the content.

I’m not judging these people. I get it.

Back in 2020, I went sort of niche viral with an article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition, sharing part of my story about deconstructing and reconstructing my faith. To this day, that is still the thing people follow me on social media for and ask me to talk about the most. And that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future as my book on the topic comes out next year. So, in a way, I’ve done this too. I’ve had a viral hit and gone on to make it my entire “thing” on the internet.

The pressure and dopamine rush of online success pushes us to do whatever we can to repeat that success. It siloes one part of our personality and deceives us into thinking that we only have value if we make content on the internet that showcases the one thing we received validation for; that our humanity is only seen if we make things for the masses to see. But that robs us of the gift of living coram deo, in the presence of God. God doesn’t just see the part of us that other people praise; he sees all of us. Our whole lives are lived before his gaze, and he searches our innermost depths. God isn’t looking to commoditize or monetize any aspect of our humanity. He sees us and he knows us; he loves us as we are.

So the key, as Christian content creators, is to show up in online spaces as full humans. To not simply try to replicate viral success, shill products, or amass a following, but to actually be human online. To break out of our niche, post about things without worrying about clicks and views, put our love for others above the desire to be seen and validated, and to live even our online lives coram deo. We may not be growth hacking our way into the biggest platforms on the web, but we’re showing up as people who care about people and want to make things that help them—even if it’s a silly joke about work. Sometimes that one joke was all that was needed. There’s no need to carry it on simply because people expect you to.

We need more Christian content creators, but we don’t need more people who are only capable of beating one drum over and over again. We don’t need people who are only chasing the next viral hit. We don’t need people who get sucked into the distortion zone and lose themselves online. What we need is wise Christians who are rooted in their local community and bring their whole selves to what they create.

Ian Harber

Ian is a marketing manager at Endeavor and is a digital marketing practitioner with 10 years of experience. He has written about faith and technology, deconstruction and reconstruction for The Gospel Coalition and Mere Orthodoxy as well as appearing on podcasts such as Reconstructing Faith, The Alisa Childers Podcast, Love Thy Neighborhood, The Living Room Disciple, Everything Just Changed, and more. Additionally, Ian has contributed to the book, Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church (TGC, 2021) and is the author of an upcoming a forthcoming book about deconstruction with InterVarsity Press (2024). Ian lives in Denton, Texas with his wife, Katie, and son, Ezra and is a member at The Village Church Denton.

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