I’m a chronic oversharer on social media – and usually an intentional one. Usually I write about my serious mental health issues and things that deeply enrage me, but that constant oversharing can be hard to sustain. No matter how much I post, I also delete a lot, either because posts are too vulnerable, too hurtful, or too likely to lead to conflict. It’s hard to know if the challenging overshares really help, or if I’m just concerned about how a judgmental world will react.
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 sparked a flood of women who shared their experiences of sexual assault and other issues, leading to greater accountability for perpetrators, a deeper sense of community for survivors, and more education about consent. But at other times, sharing can have unexpected negative consequences, such as embarrassment, security issues, or professional and personal conflicts. But if the whole point is to share something, how should we think about the choice of what we do and do not want to share?
Christopher Hand, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University who studies online harassment, says the benefits are hard to distinguish from the risks. “We live in a world that seems riddled with double-edged swords,” Hand told me, “things with clear positives and clear constructive uses, but also vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation.”
I’ve seen that two-sided dynamic with my own parts. People have told me that my own mental health revelations helped them with their shame or their healing journey. But the cost to my own mental health is significant. Knowing that my most traumatic moments are being judged and gossiped — often in malicious ways — makes me anxious and even angry. Some appreciate sharing too much; others demonize it.
Of course it depends on who is doing the sharing. Hand points to some research indicating that several factors, including the perceived attractiveness of the poster, can influence how we judge the “appropriateness” of information shared on social media.
Lindsay McGlone, an activist and public speaker who uses The Fierce Fat Feminist online, says she feels a lot of judgment stems from “the idea of ’craving for’ attention,” a gender-specific characterization that can portray women or other marginalized groups as dramatic. or unstable.
That risk is worth it for many of the marginalized users who turn to social media to find a community. Nicole Froio, a Brazilian freelance journalist and researcher into gender-based violence, says sharing on social media has helped her manage her feelings of isolation. “When I was doing my PhD, I was one of the few Latin American students in my department, so sharing too much was important to process the xenophobia and racialization I was experiencing.” She told me that, as a bisexual woman, finding a 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 also says stigma doesn’t matter. “[Social media] has always been an online journal for me, a place to document my daily life, my victories and successes, and of course my pitfalls, 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.
For users focused on a broader mission, the biggest problem will be managing the trolls. “I’m a big fan of the block button,” Ysabel Gerrard, a lecturer in digital media and society at the University of Sheffield, told me in an email. “Too many of my friends are targeted by their identities, especially the trans community, and blocking people is an important method of protection (although it’s a shame it’s necessary).” You can also post anonymously, says Gerrard. Kids often use apps like YOLO to share without worrying about revealing their identity.
“I would also encourage people to leverage multiple social media accounts and embrace pseudonymity,” Gerrard writes.
Another person, Kelsey*, told me she decided to use social media completely anonymously to talk about 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 express my guts without burdening my loved ones,” she says.
The potential harm is real: shame, stalking and conflicts with loved ones. Often people don’t realize they’ve shared too much until it’s too late. Froio said the airing on the internet led to an argument with her parents. Another person, Noa*, told me she needed to see a school counselor she didn’t want to see because of one of her positions. “My limits were exceeded,” said Noa.
More and more I found oversharing on large platforms unpleasant and unsatisfactory. I know 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 across a pixelated screen to be of value to society.
That seems to be the takeaway for most people. Sharing too much isn’t really defined by what you share. It is determined by how well you respect your own limits and prioritize your own health when you share – bearing in mind that you cannot control the reactions of others.