As we live through the social media boom, it’s not uncommon to feel an overwhelming societal pressure to exchange our privacy for a greater sense of connectivity and openness. The idea that we’re living in a post-privacy age, that transparency in all things is virtuous, and that the greatest good lies in sharing intimate details of our lives at all times has become common rhetoric. It can be challenging at times to remember that some things are meant to be private. If you find yourself tempted to “overshare” (disclosing too much information about one’s personal history or private life via social networking and media sharing platforms) or to provide the dreaded “TMI” (too much information), recognize that it’s OK to stay true to your values.
Keep in mind that the very companies who bang the drum for more sharing are the ones who stand to gain. The “free tools” of social media companies essentially represent a long-term play towards the monetization of the “oversharing economy.” The information you share with these companies will be used to drive advertising revenue and provide marketing and business intelligence to data analytics companies.
By all means use social media if you choose – to share information, network and keep up with your friends and family. But use the platforms intelligently, and share mindfully. Keep an eye out for features and functionality that are designed to elicit more and more of your information. Be aware of social pressure from friends and family that may urge social media “hold outs” to share more than they are comfortable sharing.
Facebook recently announced two new features and one new default privacy setting which highlight the tension between users who wish to be private and Facebook’s desire to amass more information about its user base. First, the good news. To Facebook’s credit, they’ve come to realize that users and regulators care about privacy. Demonstrating an increased attention to privacy issues and user choice, Facebook has changed the default setting for new users - posts are set to share with “friends only” instead of “public.”
Two new features on Facebook seem to run counter to this interest in sharing more thoughtfully, however. Facebook is now encouraging users to ask their friends to fill in gaps in their profile with the “ask your friend’s relationship status prompt.” Some users decline to complete their profile for privacy reasons – including only the required information to create an account – and not to include more personal information such as sexual orientation, hometown, address, hometown, phone number and music preferences. If you’ve chosen to leave your relationship status blank, your friends may start pinging you to ask about your status and you may feel pressured to share. Do we really need to be pestered in this way? It may seem like friends are asking, but it’s actually Facebook that wants to know.
Facebook’s second new feature is an audio recognition system available in its mobile app. Consider it something like Shazam for movies and TV shows. For users who have turned on the feature, a small icon will appear on the screen when you tap to write a update. You can then opt to share or ignore what the feature picks up. If the feature is on, it works passively, not on command, so any time a user writes a Facebook status update, their phone will be listening to surrounding noise. Facebook specifies that it will not store any audio it doesn’t identify as an existing piece of content, and it stresses that (at least for now) the feature is optional. The concern here is over potential abuse and the inadvertent oversharing that can occur if users forget it’s turned on.
“People are very reluctant to talk about their private lives, but then you go to the internet and they’re much more open.” Paul Coelho (Brazilian novelist)
Why is that? Research shows there is a psychological reason we overshare on social media. It seems we lose the ability for self-regulation, and when lulled into a false sense of security we tend to overshare. Also, we long to be popular and sadly “undersharing” is considered boring.
Pay attention to what you’re comfortable with and don’t feel you have to conform your values to new social media features. Using the tools below, you can resist the pressure to overshare.
Practical tips to resist oversharing online:
1. Be present and take a breath. Be mindful of your emotional state. Are you anxious or distracted? Often we are multi-tasking and not paying close attention when we are using social media.
2. Think of the consequences. Are you about to overshare? Examples of oversharing include: posting your home phone number and address or complete date of birth, announcing vacations or when you are away from home, sharing pictures of inappropriate situations, or posting about your financial status. Consider whether it is a good idea to share the information you are about to post. Keep in mind the social, emotional, and security consequences to you and others.
3. Consider the alternatives. You may decide not to share that particular bit of personal information, not to use a certain feature or not to use some social media platforms at all.
4. Take a break. Step away from your computer or turn off your mobile device. Get some perspective before you go with the flow. Use technology and social media consciously.