Have you ever wondered if you overshare? The problems of gossip as well as uninteresting gabbing has been around as long as there have been places to gather. Face to face, this is a delicate matter. But even with the loss of subtlety in online conversations, and particularly those which happen on Social Media, the problem still remain. While oversharing still happens F2F, it happens more rapidly on Social Media, a public forum that often archives your activities and comments with flawless recall. While that might bring some people the attention and notoriety they crave, there are also negative consequences of oversharing. Here’s how not to overshare on Social Media.
WHAT IS OVERSHARING
If you want to know how to NOT overshare, you better know what it is and when you’ve done it. VA Simple Services had a succinct list of examples that is worth reposting:
Posting your complete date of birth
Announcing vacations or when you’re away from home
Sharing hate messages
Posting your every move including what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Sharing pictures of inappropriate situations such as being intoxicated, showing too much “skin”, being with people or places you shouldn’t be, etc.
Posting your home phone number or address
Sharing your family battles including marital arguments
Posting about your financial situation
Sharing every little accomplishment your kids have achieved
Posting the same content over and over 50 times per day
Posting personal information or pictures about your friends and family
Letting us know every time you’re on YoVille or other online games
Notice how some of the overshare examples above are about vulnerability and exposure. For example, if you choose to post your full birthdate on Facebook, your birthdate can be potentially exposed to friends, friends of friends, and in some cases, an extended “friend” network. Your birthdate is an identifying piece of information needed to apply for any number of sensitive accounts and documents, such as a Social Security number. You wouldn’t give out your SSN to just anybody, would you? Why would give your birthdate?
Other overshare examples exist in the category of both personal privacy and matters of taste. One could argue that there is an entire market of voyeurs, curiosity seekers, and gossips who would truly enjoy getting into your business if you were to anonymously expose the details of your sordid sexual affairs or the mental state of your ex-spouse, as did a man who divorced his wife several years ago. He started The Psycho Ex-Wife as a way to share about his divorce and child custody battle, but it turned into a forum for thousands of others who identified with his situation. Problem: while writing under anonymity, he shared too many pieces of identifying information, and his children eventually found out what he was writing about his ex-wife. The couple is embroiled in a lawsuit, and currently a judge has ordered the man to shut down his blog on the grounds that his blog contains material that would be harmful for the children to interact with about the mother. Before it was removed, the contents of the blog included both his and his new partner’s speculations as to his ex-wife’s mental state (including undiagnosed psychiatric disorders), her personal activities, her parenting, and his recounting of her failings.
What’s the verdict? Is this an example of an overshare? Consider this: if the writer needed catharsis and a forum of people to talk to, why wasn’t it sufficient to join a divorce support group and put all conversation under legal confidentiality? Even if the writer had started his blog with the intention of helping other people through their divorce process by creating a cathartic support forum, it eventually morphed into something much more complex and convoluted. Currently, the writer is raising money for a legal battle to bring his blog back online under the First Amendment. While he raise that money, I challenge you to consider the effect of this kind of “license to write” that includes character defamation under the cowardice of barely-obscured anonymity.
Another recent example is that of Trey Pennington, a popular blogger and father of six going through a divorce. After sharing elements of his divorce and custody battle, Pennington took his own life. There is some speculation that he may have succumbed to both the divorce tactics in his case and to his oversharing efforts on popular Social Media. Many in the Social Media sphere are grieving the loss of this man. We will always wonder if there would have been some way to have prevented this sad loss.
HOW NOT TO OVERSHARE
It seems so simple. You can tell yourself, “Don’t gossip,” and “Don’t self-disclose too much.” Let’s put some feet to this plan. A couple of ideas will help you not to overshare:
1. If you are in a carthartic mood, write what you think and feel, and then save it in draft form offline. Go back to your draft later, and ask yourself, “Is this important to anyone else?” If what you wrote is self-serving, passive agressive, or damaging in nature, hit the delete key, and save yourself anguish later.
2. Rethink your practices of sharing all of your activities on Foursquare, Facebook Places, and other geo-locating platforms. Yes, some people are interested in following your every step. They are voyeurs, just like you and me. And a small amount of them may be stalkers. Some platforms allow you to limit who can have access to your check ins. But in general, people don’t want to hear about every detail of the food your having for every meal and snack unless you are a paid food blogger/foodie.
3. Think through how much time and effort you want to spend on Social Media per week. As platforms become more entertaining, there is an addictive quality to it that encourages people to overshare. Create your own plan of use, and stick to it.
4. Don’t share other people’s personal information, without their permission, such as illnesses and disease states, delicate situations, and matters of hygiene, physical appearance, and references to their sexuality or practices. There may be circumstances of which your oversharing could get you into a lawsuit for libel. While your First Amendment rights guarantee freedom of the press, with freedom comes responsibility.
5. Use caution when sharing self-referential commentary online. Being personable is one thing. It can be warm, endearing, and connecting. But it can also backfire, and you will only have yourself to blame. Without clearly mapping the reasons and consequences for doing so, you may find yourself regretting your online sharing as your information gets in the hands of health insurers, lawyers, and the loved ones forced to deal with your online presence. It can be very powerful to create a blog about your breast cancer treatment, recovery, and fundraising for a cure for cancer. Similarly, it can be very damaging to post personal information on websites hosting small-town gossip. The New York Times recently posted an article about the effect of small-town gossip hosted on the Web, resulting in divorces, character assassinations, and the contemplating of suicide.
Here at Seattle Direct Counseling, I have a Social Media policy to clarify my position on the use of Social Media in regards to my work. Both therapist and client have certain responsibilities to uphold in the context of a therapeutic relationship, and many of them are legal responsibilities in regards to confidentiality. Be sure to check out my Social Media policy. Whether you or someone you know contracts with me for services, you should understand your rights in regards to Social Media use in the healthcare world.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think about oversharing on Social Media? Have you ever overshared, and then regretted it? What is your process to prevent oversharing? Please share your comments here.
And if you are a helping professional, I am especially eager to hear from you. What guides your choices on what you share, both on professional and personal blogs?
Question: would you like to hear this article as a podcast on iTunes? I’m currently considering turning all my blogposts into audio podcasts so you can enjoy them on the fly! They may be released under a different name so that can be found a bit easier. I’ll be posting more information as this develops.