Ideas are some of the most powerful things in the world. They shape perspectives, form convictions, paint worldviews, and drive actions. In short, ideas influence people. If an idea becomes widespread with enough people believing it and living it out, that idea possesses the kind of power kings and rulers throughout the ages have craved.
Ideas are powerful. Therefore, ideas matter.
There’s a particular thing that has become a great conveyor of ideas in our culture. It’s small enough to fit in a back pocket, large enough to encompass the whole world, addictive enough to steal our time and attention…and powerful enough to shape our worldview.
It’s called social media.
Agent of Ideas
By its very nature, social media is intended to influence. Think of all the “influencers” you follow. How are they influencing? They’re dispersing ideas and information in a way that is highly attractive on a platform that is noticeably addictive. There are millions of voices competing for our attention. All it takes is a quick tap on our screen and suddenly a deluge of information is before us. That makes social media an incredibly powerful agent of ideas.
It’s not just “agenda driven” social media either. Rather, every story, every tweet, and every TikTok video communicates a worldview, even if it’s subtle or unintended. And worldviews are contagious. If you have a social media account, you’re an influencer. If you follow any social media accounts, you’re being influenced. If you’ve ever battled jealousy after seeing photos of a friend’s vacation, felt insecure about your body after viewing someone else’s gym post, or decided to cut your hair just like that person you follow, you can understand my point. We’re naturally impressionable people. That makes social media a potentially dangerous agent of ideas. It has the capacity and power to hit us exactly where we feel vulnerable.
We’re naturally impressionable people. That makes social media a potentially dangerous agent of ideas
Ideas are never neutral. They are either wholly true, wholly false, or a confusing mashup of the two. Behind all ideas are one of two forces: God’s truth or Satan’s lies. If an idea isn’t sourced from Scripture, backed up by the Word of God, or found in God’s general revelation, it automatically falls into the camp of lies from Satan. There’s no other place for it to go. Here social media must split into being either an agent of God’s truth or an agent of Satan’s lies.
I’ve been positively impacted by godly individuals on social media whom I believe are using the platform to proclaim truth. I’m thankful for those individuals and I believe God can use them to spread the gospel and plant seeds of truth. However, the Bible tells us that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19),1 and that in the last days, “lawlessness will abound” (Matthew 24:12) and lies will increase as truth is suppressed (see Romans 1:18-32 and 2 Timothy 3:1-9). Social media is a creation of our current culture, and while it’s one that has the potential to be redeemed and used by God, anything that is created by a godless society, promoted by that society, and popular among its members is something that deserves our careful and critical thought, discernment, and biblical evaluation. Social media has primarily been used as a tool of Satan to spread his lies and agenda. Believing anything otherwise would be contrary to everything the Bible tells us about the state of the world.
Social media is a creation of our current culture, and while it’s one that has the potential to be redeemed and used by God, anything that is created by a godless society, promoted by that society, and popular among its members is something that deserves our careful and critical thought, discernment, and biblical evaluation
As followers of Christ, we are called to not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our minds]” (Romans 12:2). Cultivating a biblical worldview requires that we recognize the pattern of the world, and instead of conforming our mindsets and actions to that pattern, we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts and minds, transforming us from the inside out through the Word of God and the work of the Spirit (see Ephesians 4:17-23). But even if we want to be conformed to Christ, we also have to be aware that the environment of the world is like a vice trying to bend us into its pattern. Everywhere we go, we’re exposed to ideas and those ideas exert pressure on us. Even if they’re subtle, prolonged exposure to unbiblical ideas is like a continual dripping, slowly etching its pattern upon the surface of a rock. It may seem harmless to spend hours scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, but as secular worldviews fill our eyes and ears, slowly they begin to teach us false ideas of who God is, what a meaningful life looks like, the purpose of relationships, and what our priorities should be. Remember, ideas are never neutral. Let’s consider three pivotal ways social media can potentially influence us:
1. Distracting/Consuming Our Attention
Every Sunday, I get a report on how I used my phone over the past week. I’ll admit, there have been weeks where I’ve been shocked over the hours I spent on my social media apps. Spending excessive time consuming social media is an epidemic of our generation. According to a Barna study, 60% of Gen Z thinks they spend too much time on screens. Not only is this an issue because it impacts our relationships, productivity, activity choices, and has consequences on physical and emotional health, but it’s also a serious problem because it reveals the extreme amount of exposure we’re receiving from media and therefore the strong influence it’s having over our lives. Our attention drives our affections. What we pay attention to will impact our values and shape our preferences. Exposure ultimately leads to impact.
Imagine you have a friend who is obsessed with pickleball. It’s all they do during their free time and all they talk about. The closer you are to this friend and the more time you spend with them directly correlates to the likelihood of you ending up with a paddle in your hand out on a pickleball court. If you see them once or twice a year, it’s unlikely their influence will compel you to join their favorite sport. On the other hand, if you see them every day and actually enjoy being around them, you might as well just lace up your tennis shoes right now.
Our attention drives our affections. What we pay attention to will impact our values and shape our preferences. Exposure ultimately leads to impact
The countless hours we spend on social media and its addictive nature make it an exceptionally powerful influence. Its sway is only heightened by the fact that many of us spend more time consuming media than we do consuming God’s Word. Compare fifteen minutes a day reading a devotional to three hours of media consumption: which is going to have the greater impact? Having a biblical worldview begins with knowing and understanding the Bible. We can’t discern false ideas if we’re not deeply rooted in truth.
2. Spreading Messages
Have you ever read a news story on Facebook only to find out later that it was false or exaggerated? Messages abound on social media because it’s a platform deliberately designed for their dispersion. It’s a platform where everyone and their brother can hop on and share their opinions on any current hot topic. But not every opinion is true or valid. If we choose to use social media, we need to be vigilant to the messages and agendas being spread.
In my book Stand Up, Stand Strong, I share a list of questions to ask when you’re considering ideas, such as:
- What does this mean?
- What source is saying this? Is this source trustworthy?
- What lifestyle is this idea promoting?
- What worldview is this promoting?
- What does the Bible have to say about this idea? Can this be backed up by Scripture?
If you see something on social media, don’t immediately accept it as true. Instead, pinpoint the idea behind it and then study Scripture to find out if it’s an idea worth believing. By doing the hard work of investigating ideas and comparing them against God’s Word, you’re not only strengthening your biblical worldview and your understanding of Scripture, but also adding a protective layer of immunity from many of the world’s false ideas.
3. Normalizing Sin
If an individual wants something to be rare, they limit access to it. If they want it to become normal, they spread it far and wide. Social media has a profound ability to normalize sin—unbiblical ideas, lifestyles, and actions. The more exposure we experience, the more desensitized we become, and suddenly it becomes normal. Once we consider an idea, lifestyle, or action to be normal, we’ve stopped considering whether it’s right or wrong and simply embraced it wholesale.
Social media is perfectly set up to normalize sinful behavior because messages are spread via individuals and often shared in a way that’s attractive, elicits empathy, and appeals to our emotions. I can think of many stories I’ve seen online of LGBTQ+ individuals coming out or of people sharing their experiences of deconstruction or church hurt. If we’re not deeply rooted in Scripture, the real-life examples we witness have the potential to become our landing spot of truth and slowly shift our convictions by eliciting our empathy and stirring our emotions. We must be grounded in God’s truth or risk being pulled into the current of what culture now calls normal.
Once we consider an idea, lifestyle, or action to be normal, we’ve stopped considering whether it’s right or wrong and simply embraced it wholesale
The way we can successfully navigate social media is the same way we navigate any other aspect of culture—by knowing what is true. Social media may be a powerful tool, but the Word of God is a far more powerful weapon. As we prioritize it, study it, and allow God’s truth to be the lens through which we view the world, we are equipped to navigate culture with wisdom, holiness, and discernment.
I challenge you—don’t let YouTube be the source for your worldview or Instagram be where you get your theology. Both will attempt to teach you, but neither have the credibility required. Instead, look to the only truly reliable source—God’s enduring Word.
Sara (Barratt) Starkey is the Editor-in-Chief of theRebelution.com and the author of Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call to Bold Faith in a Confused Culture. She recently got married to her husband, Matthew, and together they make their home in Michigan. Connect with her on her website: SaraBarratt.com.