Written by Karen Tangel, Indonesia
When I first signed up on Facebook, I was an 11-year-old who was just trying to fit in. I made friends with anyone, regardless of who they were and where they came from. Back then, it was a big win to have 2000 friends on Facebook—it made me feel like people acknowledged and accepted me. It felt good to see them reacting to and commenting on my posts.
But over time, I began to feel pressured to keep up with whatever’s trending on social media, because I was afraid that I would lose my “friends” if I didn’t know what was “in”. So I joined online conversations about what’s trending and began following influencers. I would keep an eye on every post they made and hope that by imitating them, I would gain more friends.
Trying to emulate the influencers’ lifestyles led me to impulsively buy unnecessary stuff, like skincare products recommended by actresses whose skin types were different from mine. I also tried to dress like the people I saw on my Instagram and visit places endorsed by some of these influencers.
But instead of feeling fulfilled, I found myself drained. By trying to act like all these people, I ended up with very little idea of what I actually liked, and I began to feel like I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Trusting the algorithm or the Word?
After some time, a close friend noticed that I had become distant from the people in my real life. We had a chat and she suggested that I slowed down on my social media activities. Eventually I decided to open up to my close friends about this struggle, and they prayed for me. God used that very moment to bring me back to Him through prayers.
The moment of slowing down and taking my concerns to God through prayer made me realise how my self-image was being shaped by the algorithms. Because I had given all my attention to social media, I was letting the algorithm, rather than the living word of God, define me.
I started reading and praying through the psalms, because I didn’t even know what to say or how to begin my prayers. Psalm 25, Psalm 62, Psalm 63, Psalm 90, and Psalm 139 were the psalms that really articulated the longings of my heart. Through these prayers, I asked God to fill this emptiness in my heart, so I didn’t have to resort to social media for that.
Being a follower
When we think about how Jesus calls us to follow Him, it’s so different from the idea of how “following” works on social media—where the more engagement we have results in us getting more followers. Following Jesus means “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV); in fact, following Him can, in some situations, mean losing followers.
In obsessively following influencers, I had lost sight of the only Person worth following—Jesus. Yet while I had been wandering like a lost sheep, my good and kind Shepherd found me. While I was trying to fill myself with likes and views that ultimately meant nothing, He brought me out of that and reaffirmed my true identity in Him.
My identity is not based on whom I follow or on the kind of lifestyle I adopt. It all boils down to being His child and reserving my undivided attention for Him; He is the one I shall behold.
These realisations eventually led me to unsubscribe from content that promotes enhancing the self-image (wearing this outfit or that makeup) for the sake of getting followers. I took out clothes and items I impulsively bought and donated them instead of collecting them. I realised I didn’t need to always know what was trending, and I have stopped wanting to gain followers.
These days, the way I engage with social media has changed. I turn off my social media notifications, and instead use the time to feed my soul by reading God’s word and good books and engaging in real-life, encouraging conversations with friends.
I thank God for helping me recognise this struggle sooner rather than later. Recently, a friend asked if I would share my experience in church. I never thought that my struggles with social media would lead to deep and genuine conversations with a group of teenagers who also shared the same struggles. We eventually made a commitment to fellowship together and encourage one another.
Just as God worked in my friend’s heart to reach out to me, I believe this fellowship will be another instrument that God will use to grow us and minister to others, so that we will all become more like Christ.