Troll Farms and Christian Cringe
By Pastor JJ
This post is part 2 of our series on the intersection between technology and life as a Christian in the modern world. Last time, we covered the foundation – that we should look at engagement on the internet much like chatting with someone in a coffee shop. People can hear you. People can see the way you behave. AND to top it all off – they have a transcript of what you said (which isn’t much like a coffee shop, but it’s important to note). If we are to represent Jesus Christ out there in the world, we must treat the internet as a public space, and act accordingly.
Today I want to outline two quick trends that I see in Christians engaging on social media: The Troll Farm and Christian Cringe.
One thing we need to understand if you’re going to interact and engage with people on the internet is that numbers drive the content. If your post or blog or picture or whatever gets a large number of views or likes or shares – you can get paid. That’s right – if your content is popular, you can turn digital content into actual real life dollars. And, unfortunately, the ONLY standard is that it must be popular. This is what drives most of the content that is created in our digital world. They want whatever they make to be popular (because if it’s popular, they make more money). Actually, it seems silly, but the Disney movie sequel to Wreck it Ralph (called Ralph breaks the internet) is a pretty cute and surprisingly helpful outline for how it works. I recommend taking a Friday night with the kids or the grand kids and checking that one out. Yes, obviously it’s a little kid’s movie and it’s not real – but the concept is real: Popular content creates real money. Let’s take youtube for an example. Most people use youtube to find videos they want to watch and they watch them. But SOME folks want to make money off of youtube. If you can get 10,000 people to subscribe to your youtube channel, you can start to get money from advertisers. The more likes and shares and comments and whatever that your video gets – the more money they pay you.
Unfortunately, the “popularity is king” model for the internet means that it is very tempting for some people to make content JUST to make money. They create stuff they KNOW will be popular, whether they mean it or not. And we have recently discovered that CHRISTIANS are particularly gullible when it comes to this type of content – we call it: Christian Cringe.
Have you ever seen a post that said :
“I’m not afraid to share my belief in God, I bet I can’t get 1,000 people to say Amen?”
“Quick, let’s make this go viral before they delete it: God loves you. Like and share if you agree.”
Usually the words are plastered over an inspiring background (like a sunset or a picture of a cross on a hill, or sometimes it will go weirdly patriotic and have an eagle or a flag behind the words? Here’s one:
Or here's another one that's a little more "cringe" worthy. I mean, what is even happening in this picture?
I have even seen some posts go so far as to blackmail or guilt people into sharing them. You might see things that say, “share this with five people or you won’t get into heaven” or “if you like this post all your prayers for today will be answered.” And of course, there’s my personal favorite: “if you don’t share this post the devil will win and Jesus will cry.” (ugh, my eyes hurt from rolling them too hard) If you’ve ever seen those posts, then you have seen what many have come to call “Christian Cringe.” Technically, there’s nothing wrong with some of those posts. I mean, God does love you – and I’m glad people are not afraid to share their belief. I just wish they’d do it in person with their neighbor instead of on social media. (shrug). But here’s the problem – those content creators are MONEY GRUBBERS NOT AUTHENTIC CREATORS. The original poster does not believe in Jesus. The creator of that post does not care about spreading the love of God. They care about creating something that millions of people will like and share, so they get a bigger check from the advertisers. That’s why many of us call it “cringe.” It’s lowest common denominator stuff put out for mass appeal by people with the wrong motivations. They actually did a study recently and found that 19 of the top 20 Christian facebook content creators were NOT EVEN REAL. They were Troll Farms coming from eastern Europe. (Troll farms are small groups of people who sit around all day and create fake or skewed content to influence elections and public thought). Here’s the article: 19 out of 20 American Christian Facebook pages are run from Eastern European troll farms.
Here is my point with all of this - two principles I want you to take with you out into your internet-ing habits:
1. Check Your Sources
When you see a post you like that has an inspiration quote or a perfect fact that just lines up so well and you want to share it – check it out first. Honestly, the easiest way is to just open up the internet and search for the quote. Use google or bing or yahoo or whatever search engine you prefer – type in the quote and if the correct name doesn’t pop up, it’s probably a fake quote. If a post you like is from a church (a real church that you know is real), or a popular Christian celebrity that is a real person – you’re probably safe sharing their posts and content. But if the original post comes from a very generic people pleasing organization name – steer clear.
2. Share things In Person, or at least personally.
Rather than clicking like or sharing a post on facebook or Instagram or wherever – why not walk to your neighbors house and tell them the message to their face. If you would share a post that says “Jesus loves you so much and I love you too” on facebook – why not say it to the random lady in the grocery store? For all of it’s wonderful abilities, the digital world is simply not as strong of an impact as a human being walking up to you and telling you the message. Now, you might find a quote or a message that you really love and you want to have on your facebook profile. So why not write a NEW post and type in the quote? Rather than benefitting a troll farm in Eastern Europe – just create a fresh post and share the words as your own. Give credit if it’s a quote, of course, but you can just create a fresh post and skip all this viral trending nonsense. The best way to interact and give someone a message is in person, or at least personally, with your name attached. The internet is a tool. Some people use it authentically, to create good content that connects with people. And some people use it in a money-grubbing fashion – manipulating and saying whatever will get them the biggest paycheck. As Christians we should go that extra mile to make sure we are being authentic and not supporting troll farms with Christian Cringe. Simple, right?