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When does sharing become oversharing?

When does sharing become oversharing?


Sharing our personal lives online is important — but it’s dangerous, too

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I’m a chronic oversharer on social media — and usually an intentional one. Mostly, I write about my severe mental health struggles and things that deeply enrage me, but that constant oversharing can be hard to maintain. As much as I post, I delete a lot too, either because posts are too vulnerable, too hurtful, or too likely to spark conflict. It’s hard to know if the defiant overshares are really helping, or if I’m just worried about how a judgmental world will respond.

The intimacy of social media can lead us to share a lot, and being vulnerable in those spaces can give us a rare sense of power. The #MeToo movement brought on a flood of women disclosing their experiences with sexual violence and other issues, leading to increased accountability for perpetrators, a deeper sense of community for survivors, and greater education around consent. Yet at other times, sharing can have unexpected negative consequences, like shaming, security issues, or professional and personal conflict. But if the whole point is to share something, how should we think about the choice of what to share and what not to share?

How should we think about the choice of what to share?

Christopher Hand, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University who studies online harassment, says the benefits are hard to peel apart from the risks. “We live in a world that seems to be riddled with double-edged swords,” Hand told me, “things that have clear positives and clear constructive applications, but that are also vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation.”

I’ve seen that two-sided dynamic play out with my own sharing. People have told me that my own disclosures about mental health helped them with their shame or their healing trajectory. But the cost to my own mental health is significant. Knowing that my most traumatic moments are being judged and gossiped about — often in malicious ways — makes me anxious and even angry. Some appreciate the oversharing; others demonize it.

Of course, it depends on who is doing the sharing. Hand points out some research that indicates that various factors, including the perceived attractiveness of the poster, can affect how we judge the “appropriateness” of information shared on social media. 

When Nicole shares vulnerable thoughts online, she sees it as sharing with her friends, not the whole world

Lindsay McGlone, an activist and public speaker who goes by The Fierce Fat Feminist online, says that she feels a lot of judgment coming from “the idea of ‘craving’ attention,” a gendered characterization that can paint women or other marginalized groups as dramatic or unstable.

That risk is worth it for many of the marginalized users who go to social media to find community. Nicole Froio, a Brazilian freelance journalist and researcher on gendered violence, says sharing on social media has helped manage her feelings of isolation. “When I was doing my PhD, I was one of the few Latin American students in my department, so oversharing was important to process the xenophobia and racialization I was experiencing.” She told me that, as a bisexual woman, finding community among others who share that identity is also validating, and that when she shares vulnerable thoughts online, she sees it as sharing with her friends, not the whole world.

McGlone, too, says that stigma doesn’t matter. “[Social media] has always been an online diary for me, a place to document my daily life, my wins and successes, and of course my downfalls, especially living in a marginalized body.” Her social media is focused on creating a platform to highlight the discrimination that fat people face every day, and this is an overwhelmingly positive thing for her.

“I am a big fan of the block button.”

For users focused on a broader mission, the biggest issue becomes managing the trolls. “I am a big fan of the block button,” Ysabel Gerrard, lecturer in digital media and society at University of Sheffield, told me in an email. “Too many of my friends are targeted for their identities, particularly the trans community, and blocking people is an important method of protection (though sad that it’s necessary).” Posting anonymously is also an option, Gerrard says. Kids often use apps like YOLO to share without concerns about revealing their identity.

“I’d also encourage people to make use of having multiple accounts on social media and embracing pseudonymity,” Gerrard writes. 

Another person, Kelsey*, told me she decided to use social media completely anonymously to discuss mental health, while also protecting her identity and that of her husband, who has a high-profile career. “I needed a space where I could anonymously spill my guts without burdening my loved ones,” she says. 

The possible harms are real: embarrassment, stalking, and conflict with loved ones. Often, people don’t realize they have shared too much until it’s too late. Froio said venting online led to a fight with her parents. Another person, Noa*, told me she was required to see a school counselor she did not want to see due to one of her posts. “My boundaries were overstepped,” Noa said.

More and more, I’ve found oversharing on large platforms unpleasant and unfulfilling. I know that I can help people through sharing and community, but I reject the idea that I have to expose my own struggles and traumas in the process, that I have to bleed out over a pixelated screen to be of worth to society. 

That seems to be the takeaway for most people. “Oversharing” isn’t really defined by what you share. It’s defined by how well you’re honoring your own boundaries and prioritizing your own health when you share — keeping in mind that you can’t control others’ reactions.