by Ean Tam, May 6, 2022
In contemporary media culture, the more information we get and the faster we get it, the more satisfied we are. But at some point, we have to consider the consequences of sharing too much about ourselves. Oversharing is when someone excessively broadcasts personal information over social media.
What kind of information can be overshared?
A prime example is location—where you are and who you are with. Most social media platforms enable users to share location. For some platforms, location sharing has to be done manually by the individual. On Instagram, you can make a post and tag your location, so everyone who sees your posts can see where you are. On the other hand, sometimes your location is shared simply by using the app. For instance, if you enable the map feature on Snapchat, your followers can see where you are whenever you open the app again.
Another example of overshared information is family information. Family information includes birthdays, names of siblings and parents, or major family events (like a family member moving into a new house). Social media has its advantages in that it connects families and friends. However, posting family information becomes an act of oversharing if you let the public know the details of your family dynamics or personal information.
A third form of oversharing is indulging your followers with your personal thoughts and emotions. A study published in 2017 calls this “self-disclosure” because you are voluntarily disclosing your inner sentiments to the world (Zhang, 527). In these situations, an individual uses social media to convey their mental state to the public. Often, this happens spontaneously and in the heat of the moment. For example, a user may negatively comment on people they know such as coworkers or make an impassioned statement involving politics.
A fourth form of oversharing is sharing the private conversations you have with others. This can be done by screenshotting direct messages and then posting these conversations elsewhere. For example, you can screenshot text messages with one person and then share this screenshot on Snapchat for your followers to see. This is oversharing because you would be violating the trust of the person you were having the private conversation with. By sharing private messages on social media, you are in effect, allowing others to eavesdrop on your conversation. You consented to this because you were the one who shared the conversation, but the others involved in the conversation may not have.
Virtually any social media app allows for oversharing. This is because social media is inherently made for sharing information. The complication is that social media has become so advanced that information can be shared more easily. If you overshare information about yourself (such as your location), this may be considered primary overshared information because it’s about you. However, if you overshare information about someone else (like their birthday, or their child’s name, or a private message you received from them), this may be considered secondary overshared information because you are revealing information about someone else via social media.
Why do people overshare?
A prominent reason is stress sharing. A study found that adolescents may feel inclined to overshare information because it gives them a sense of freedom (Radovic et al. 7). There may be a variety of circumstances in a person’s life that make them depressed and bogged down, but being able to post whatever they want on social media grants some sense of freedom. It is a form of expression.
In addition, the urge to overshare may be triggered when a user observes something on social media that incites them into posting a passionate retort (Radovic et al. 10). We can think of politics as a prime example of sensitive subject matter that may trigger people to overshare their emotions.
We should also consider that people may overshare to seek attention. This is more complicated, because attention-seeking behavior may be the result of narcissism, or simply because someone is genuinely seeking help. In the former case, a person may overshare information about themselves to brag, or they might overshare information about others at the expense of other people’s privacy. On the other hand, if a person is genuinely seeking help, they may overshare information about themselves in order to attract the right support groups (Newman et al. 344; Zhang, 527). The more information they share about themselves, the more likely people will come to their aid and give positive reinforcement.
Goal-setting and a competitive spirit are also reasons people will overshare on social media (Munson and Consolvo, 26). People are more likely to achieve their goals if they make their goals public and well-known. A study has found that a person’s motivation increases if they believe their goals are known by people they deem to be superior (Klein et al. 372). For example, in college, there is a lot of competition and students may feel compelled to overshare their goals in order to increase their motivation to accomplish them.
Lastly, people may overshare in order to create a perfected persona of themselves. In one study, a participant displayed a lot of her athletic information on social media, including many pictures and statistics, because it helped her create a new brand for herself (Newman et al. 346).
What are the consequences?
The first consequence of oversharing is putting yourself in danger. This can be in the form of robbery or stalking (Velempini and Nyoni, 4). If you overshare your location, daily routine, and social activities, people can track you and have a good idea of where you will be and when. This happened to social media influencer and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian in 2016, when thieves reportedly used Kardashian’s social media activity to find her location in Paris and confirm when she was alone. With this information, they broke into her residence, restrained her, and robbed her.
Another consequence is damaging your professional prospects. If you decide to go on a rant on social media about your employer, you can be held responsible for whatever you say, because after all, you decided to post it. If your post is discovered by a colleague or your employer, you could potentially lose your job.
In terms of reputation, some things are better left private, and oversharing can cause your private and public lives to collide. For example, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, had personal texts with his girlfriend released to the public. Reportedly, it happened because his girlfriend shared screenshots of their conversation with her brother. While Bezos didn’t lose his job, he went through public embarrassment as a result of his girlfriend’s oversharing.
How do we avoid oversharing?
Avoid posting on social media when you’re angry. Your judgment will be clouded, and your overshared information may not represent you at your best. Double check your privacy settings. If you want to post things like family-related content, make sure only close friends and family can see it, not the general public. Lastly, when crafting a social media post, be mindful of who sees your posts. But remember, people can always screenshot your posts and share it elsewhere, so take that into consideration. Unfortunately, private information doesn’t always stay private, but taking the steps outlined above as precautionary measures may lessen the likelihood of risky oversharing in a growing digital world.
Klein, Howard J., et al. “When Goals Are Known: The Effects of Audience Relative Status on Goal Commitment and Performance.” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 105, no. 4, 2020, pp. 372–389., doi.org/10.1037/apl0000441.
Munson, Sean and Sunny Consolvo. “Exploring Goal-Setting, Rewards, Self-Monitoring, and Sharing to Motivate Physical Activity.” Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing Technologies for Healthcare, 3 July 2012, pp. 25–32., doi.org/10.4108/icst.pervasivehealth.2012.248691.
Newman, Mark, et al. “It’s Not That I Don’t Have Problems, I’m Just Not Putting Them on Facebook: Challenges and Opportunities in Using Online Social Networks for Health.” Proceedings of the ACM 2011 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Association for Computing Machinery, March 2011, pp. 341–50, doi.org/10.1145/1958824.1958876.
Radovic, Ana, et al. “Depressed Adolescents’ Positive and Negative Use of Social Media.” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 55, 2017, pp. 5–15., doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.12.002.
Velempini, Mthulisi and Phillip Nyoni. “Privacy and User Awareness on Facebook.” South African Journal of Science, vol. 114, no. 5-6, 2018, pp. 27–31, https://doi.org/10.17159/sajs.2018/20170103.
Zhang, Renwen. “The Stress-Buffering Effect of Self-Disclosure on Facebook: An Examination of Stressful Life Events, Social Support, and Mental Health Among College Students.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 75, 2017, pp. 527–537, doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.05.043.