• Media controls what information the public pays attention to.
  • Media changes how people identify and process stories worth paying attention to.
  • Media caters to users’ whims, rather than communicating the truth.

This article is the second in a two-part series exploring modern media’s impact of Christian’s ability to grasp objective truth. To read part two, click here.

We live in constant information overload. Between television, social media and the internet, the sheer quantity of news jockeying for our attention frequently feels overwhelming.

Ironically, many people stem this flood of information with more media. Be it a morning newsletter, a late-night news program, or minute-long TikTok videos, people trust their favorite media services to find and explain information that interests them, and filter everything else out.

Unfortunately, the media we rely on to explain the world affects our grasp of objective truth as it corresponds to reality.

This is particularly problematic for people who purport to follow Jesus — the well-spring and embodiment of truth (John 14:6). Christians can’t communicate the truth to others, as the 2 Timothy 2:24-25 commands us, unless we jettison sources clouding our conception of it.

Media inevitably shapes our practical knowledge of news stories, issues and events because producers and content creators choose which stories to cover and for how long. Events addressed first, or more often, tend to take on more importance in consumers’ minds.

This means people’s knowledge of what’s going on in the world — and why – depends entirely on where they get their information. A person who exclusively consumes cable news might reasonably be preoccupied with the 2024 election. Someone who spends most of their time on Facebook account about the environment, on the other hand, might be more concerned with Florida succumbing to rising sea levels.

Media have power to control what stories the public pays attention to, but they don’t have incentive to organize content by its importance. Instead, they prioritize information that interest readers — regardless of subject.

Communications scholar Neil Postman noticed the tendency of electronic media to mix the frivolous and the consequential in 1985 — the burgeoning age of television.

“There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly that it cannot be erased from a mind by a newscaster saying, ‘Now … this,’” he wrote in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, continuing,

The newscaster means that you have thought long enough on the previous matter (approximately 45 seconds), that you must not be morbidly preoccupied with it (let us say, for 90 seconds) and you must now give your attention to another fragment of news or a commercial.

Postman worried how such random, decontextualized information dumps would erode people’s ability to appropriately process tragic and lovely stories — information worth dwelling on for more than 45 seconds.

I shudder to think what he would say about social media.

If television taught viewers to expect atomized information in convenient, 45 second blocks, social media teaches people they shouldn’t have to interact with information that isn’t interesting.

We can wipe tragedy, gravity and significance from our minds with the swipe of our finger.

Does that video of a rural village destroyed by a mudslide depress you? Skip. What about this clip of a political debate? Boring? Skip. Cute puppy snoring on a couch? Ah, there’s a video worth watching.

Obvious psychological implications aside, social media’s business model requires they use algorithms to find what people like and feed them more of it.

“On social media platforms, algorithms are mainly designed to amplify information that sustains engagement, meaning they keep people clicking on content and coming back to the platforms,” social psychologist William Brady writes in Scientific American.

People’s grasp of reality gets worse the more social media algorithms interfere with their information feeds.

Some users might become myopically focused on one issue, to the unconscious exclusion of other, more important information. Others might become trapped in echo chambers, which form when algorithms exclusively feed users content that confirms their existing worldview.

Researchers refer to these echo chambers as “epistemic bubbles” — truth bubbles.

Christians cannot live in relative truth bubbles, determined by the media we consume. The Bible affirms the existence and importance of objective truth rooted in God’s character, creation and the Gospel story.

Accordingly, believers should consider reorganizing their time commitments. We can’t spend more time absorbing relativistic, untrustworthy information than meditating on God’s clarifying Word. Our belief in and adherence to Jesus and his word is what sets us free.

All Christians must do to cut through information overload is avail themselves of the Holy Spirit’s discernment the Bible’s divine truth, which Psalms 119:105 describes as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV).

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31-32)