Virality and Virtue: the Rise of “Internet Fame”

When the World Wide Web was invented in 1990, people were fascinated with what the future might hold for this fascinating interconnected network. One of the more interesting things that has come from the Web is the coveted status of being “Internet Famous.” While the idea originally started on YouTube with early content creators and channels, the concept of Internet Fame is found within other social media sites like Twitter and Instagram.

Perhaps the most enticing part about Internet fame is how accessible and reachable it appears to be. In decades prior, achieving fame is something that people almost exclusively did through mainstream media outlets like movie studios and record labels, professional sports teams, and politics. Now, anybody can start their career; all they need is access to the internet and a camera.

Millions of people have taken this exact approach and some have had incredible success doing such. With YouTube stars regularly amassing tens of millions of subscribers, Instagram influencers getting tens of thousands (if not millions) of likes regularly, and other social media platforms hosting millions of exchanges daily, the accessibility and relative ease of becoming “Internet famous” is appealing. While the idea is enticing, we should not be seeking fame as a first priority when it comes to our social media content.

Running Down the Dream

The desire to create needs to be an authentic one. If you wish to be an artist/writer/musician/whatever that desire is and the primary reason is for potential fame and immense wealth then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. Your creative vocation should not be based on possible reward but simply for the art itself.

That said, there is nothing inherently wrong with being famous. If you’re chasing your dream by creating content that people tend to enjoy and it just so happens that you become famous, then fantastic! Seeking fame as a first priority when it comes to your dream, however, is to misuse the gifts that God has given you. Among the many gifts that God has given you, He has given you a unique, interesting, and powerful perspective; you. You are the only one that has lived the life you have, to think the exact ideas you have thought of and to talk the exact way you talk.

It is that very same perspective that you approach to content creation needs to have. Whatever you create needs to be a reflection of you and your interests, voice, and passion. When your goal above all else is to attain fame for your creations, you can get caught up in trends and temporary fads, losing sight of what inspired you to create in the first place. The ends never justify the means, so the followers, and likes that come from posting popular content are not worth sacrificing the inherent goodness of your own art for. With an Internet culture that has a new topic of conversation every day and a new viral challenge every week, the fifteen minutes of internet fame is not worth sacrificing your dream for.

As a great example of people who lost themselves in the pursuit of “Internet Fame,” take Essena O’Neill. In 2015, she was one of Instagram’s famous models and influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers. Suddenly, she deleted 2,000 photos from her account and edited the captions to the remaining pictures from her account, revealing the shallow process of staging these photos that appear real. Her popularity began to take over what she posted but also how she lived, saying that “I was severely addicted. I believed how many likes and followers I had correlated to how many people liked me. I didn’t even see it happening, but social media had become my sole identity.” O’Neill lived the life that many aspire to live when it comes to content creation: thousands of followers, paid sponsorships, a glamorous lifestyle… This, however, turned out to be the exact thing that drove her to feel so empty about what she was doing; her goal was no longer to be a positive influence but to simply garner likes.

As creations, crafted by the ultimate Creator himself, we are meant to create content that not only shows the beauty in our world but the beauty of who we’re from as well. What we choose to create should be a direct reflection of the same goodness that God placed within all of His creation. Art is at its most “us” when it gives glory to our God in our own truth. While that might not lead to millions of followers or sponsorships in the near future, what you create and put out into the world should be a reflection of your own heart, not one that is simply hopping on trends in hopes to be the next viral sensation or meme.

Being Content with your Content

To clarify, there is nothing wrong with hopping on trends because they’re fun; that’s the whole point of them. While trends are fun to take part in, basing our content entirely around hopping on trends in hopes that we go viral and become famous is making an idol of fame instead of creating for the glory of the Lord. What we create needs to be something we can look back months or years from its release and be happy with. While it can be frustrating to put forth a lot of effort into something and it not do as well as you might have liked, the personal satisfaction that comes from being proud of something that your desire to produce is worth more than internet fame can offer.

If fame, within the Internet or any other kind, happens to come to you while being a creator then that is great! The fulfillment you find from producing art shouldn’t hinge on its popularity, but on the knowledge that what you created brings glory to God in your own unique way. For example, If your particular talent or calling is in writing fiction, then you should want to write a story that is true to what you find interesting and what type of story you want to tell, not just something you think will be a bestseller. Regardless of how many copies it sells, the reward is not in sales (though they are nice), it is in simply knowing that you were true to who you are, created something that expressed that truth, and brought glory to God.

Internet fame or any fame for that matter, should not be our primary motive when we pursue anything. If you feel called to create, be sure it is for the right reasons and remember that while trends come and go, your own voice and perspective is a gift from God. Glorify Him in your art in your own unique, beautiful way.