One moment you have thousands of followers and a myriad of sponsors, and the next you’re facing backlash and writing an apology.

Highs and lows like these exemplify the fickle nature of fame in the online world.

Adoration and adulation are rapidly gained and just as quickly lost, whether by mistake, slander or simply falling out of relevance.

Is having an online following really that bad or dangerous? Is it all fleeting and amounting to nothing?

I think that’s a discussion that goes deeper than a “yes” or “no” — one that is best served by zeroing in on what the purpose and end goal of influence are.

I’m gonna try and get into all that, so let’s start by looking at some terms, then pitfalls and the potential. 

What are we talking about here?

  • Fame is being known by many.
  • Influence is the ability to persuade others.
  • Clout is influence on social media that’s earned through discourse or deeds (usually of a questionable nature).

With the way the online world we live in is, we’re being hardwired to chase these things, whether knowingly or not. 

There’s a genuinely addictive nature to receiving reactions such as likes and follows.

It’s also an idea that’s explored neatly in Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, which I’ve written about before.

All that is not to say “social media bad”. It’s just that social media’s more insidious mechanics are important for one to be well aware of. 

In the past, markers of identity or how cool you were as a person extended to, e.g. the subcultures you were a part of, or more simply the stuff you did within your social circles. 

But now? It’s gotten a lot more complex. 

Identity and image management 

We attempt to encapsulate who we are in an online presence we curate. In a matter of emojis, we identify ourselves by the movements or narratives we say we’re aligned to.

We attain validation from the discourses we are a part of online, and form (and reshape) our identity based on how we are affirmed, avoided or even attacked online. 

Who we are is actually who we want to be seen as or who we aspire to become, and that is tied to the online personas we forge and project.

Asleep aboard the algorithm train, no one is stopping to get off and think about where all this is going. 

But what if who we actually are may be found in many of the pieces we left out of the puzzle?

This makes it all too easy for the influence that we’ve gingerly stacked up to get obliterated.

Whenever actual reality becomes too far divorced from the image of ourselves we’ve curated, we can be found out before an unforgiving world. 

I’m not saying this is a practice unique to Gen Z. I’m suggesting this generation is far more predisposed to it because of the social structures that surround their developmental years.

(Full disclosure: I belong to the younger end of the millennial generation that experienced the inception of social media and had to figure it out as it evolved.)

This explains some of the lengths people go for PR or reputation management.

Felt cute, might delete later.” 

It’s not uncommon to see friends periodically deleting their posts and revamping their profile or bio every now and then. 

There’s always this constant trimming and pruning going on, but what about the deeper things? What about the garden of our soul? 

Whatever is unseen and within us — the beliefs and values upon which one’s life hinges, the real and ugly parts of ourselves that we loathe to show but make us human — if we leave out, embellish or neglect these facets of ourselves in the course of engagement with the world, we are shallow at best and dishonest at worst. 

Asleep aboard the algorithm train, no one is stopping to get off and think about where all this is going. 

I’m concerned that if we’re headed in this direction, we’ll miss out on that which is deeper, higher, spiritual. Such things tend not to be instantaneous after all. 

What’s the goal of clout? 

You’ll find that most engagement rarely looks to others. Instead, the end goal here is usually a pleasure that’s self-seeking.

Chasing clout is all about riding the wave of the newest trend. And trends tend to have little do with love or a deeper meaning, though I like the ones that do.

For trends off the top of my head, think about NGL (not gonna lie), where folks answer questions on Instagram from anonymous submissions. 

Answers are designed to make one sound witty or better. Sometimes it even gets ugly, stirring up drama.

We need to examine our motivations for participating in these tell-alls.

Is it because we feel good that people want to know stuff about us, or are we wanting to show that people actually want to hear from us? 

Take up your phone and scroll through your feed for just a minute. 

Stop at each post and ask yourself: Was this a blessing? Did it make the world a better place? Did it glorify God?  

It all begs the question: What are we really chasing with our time online? And to what end? 

There’s so much potential! 

We’ve discussed plenty about pitfalls. Now it’s time to talk about purpose.

We all wield some measure of influence, so we all need to steward our influence well.

Think about the average Singaporean living 50 years ago — that’s 1972.

He would have likely been living in a kampong or early HDB, interacting with his village community or the folks he came across in his work or journey to and fro town.

Total number of people he might speak to in a day? I’m no historian but I’d say… something like a dozen?

Alright, 50 if he’s the kampong extrovert. That’s 50 conversations for our kampong extrovert in one day. 

Fast forward to 2022: Within just the next five minutes, if you wanted to, you could craft a message about why you love Jesus and disseminate that message to dozens, hundreds or thousands depending on presence or platform. 

Sure, some might just hide your message or scroll past it, but it’s not like everyone paid their fullest attention to the kampong extrovert either. 

The point is that with the advent of the Internet, as long as you have data, you now have the unique ability to influence millions — though for whom remains the question. 

It’s something the disciples and apostles would have jumped at.

Think of Paul who took every chance to share the gospel, doing so in market squares, prisons and even amid a shipwreck. 

Glory is the end game 

Fame, influence and clout are fleeting and impermanent, and are but the dollar-store variants of the original product — glory. 

God’s glory is His renown, His deserved praise and adulation.

When we have the opportunity to give God glory, we are living out one of our highest callings. Those moments are when every breath comes drawn with purpose. 

I have said a fair bit now about fame, influence and clout. Suffice to say, I want them all to give God glory.

If I’m in the limelight, may it be for a godly reason. If I speak, may it be for love and truth. If anyone looks to me, may I point them to God and bring Him glory. 

By every means, in every moment — that we would use it all to be a blessing and a mouthpiece for the gospel!

For more articles on the topic of social media, read these!

  1. What is your online presence achieving in relation to what God desires of you? 
  2. What do you have to give up or do to glorify God?
  3. How can you share the gospel on your platforms? This week, take a step of faith and do just that.