Social media is all about sharing. We all know that person who tweets a picture of what they ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The person who posts an angry Facebook status whenever they break up with their significant other, only to post a romantic status as soon as they get back together. The person who takes every chance they can to start a political debate online. But where is the line between being an active social media user and being too social on social media?
We as users update statuses, send tweets, and post pictures of ourselves on a daily basis through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And although social media is a tool for marketing yourself online, is there such a thing as oversharing? The obvious answer is yes. It is users who post too much content and content that is excessively personal that are ruining social media for other users. The cardinal rule of social media is knowing how to filter the content that you post. More and more, we hear about people getting themselves in trouble online because they share whatever is on their mind without stopping to think about who will be able to see what they are posting. Nancy Baym says it best in Personal Connections In the Digital Age when she states that “the separation of presence from communication offers us more control over our social worlds yet simultaneously subjects us to new forms of control, surveillance, and constraint” (Baym 4). The inescapable nature of “new media” makes it difficult for people to get away with what they say, whether it’s in the heat of the moment or carefully thought out. Anything we post online, tweet, or share with someone on Facebook can be seen by basically anyone in an instant. It can be used against us, hurt us when we try to look for jobs, or in a more positive sense, can be used to build our online brand. Whether negative or positive, it is undeniable that media is very powerful. Some would even argue that it is too powerful.
This knowledge is not new. We are warned about the “fishbowl effect” of social media every day. Sometimes, when I see a post on Facebook or Twitter, I ask myself – does this person realize that the entire world can view this post? As much as we like to reassure ourselves, privacy setting essentially mean nothing when it comes to social media. A scantily clad selfie posted on Instagram when you’re 15 can come back to haunt you when you’re in line for a job on Wall Street at 25. Tweeting that you hate you hate your job can get you fired in a matter of hours.
As Judith Donath explains in Sociable Media, “identity is at the core of all social interactions. We care about how others perceive us and devote considerable energy to conveying our own identity” (Donath 4). Some people want so desperately to show others exactly who they are and what they’re thinking that they lose sight of the ramifications of treating social media platforms like private diary entries. Being excessive with tweets and posts can have the inverse effect of what Donath explains and can end up alienating you from others as opposed to strengthening social interactions. Some information is better left between close family and friends. And even though a user thinks that a Facebook post from many years ago is long gone, a simple Google search can pull up age old information.
Our society has moved from media to social media, and that any user who generates his or her own content finds an audience. Every Twitter user has a list followers and whether or not the number is one follower or one million followers, any message can be tweeted and retweeted an infinite number of times, exposing the content to an endless number of people. And although we as users understand that social media eliminates our privacy, it also makes us feel as though we have an outlet for our opinions. Because of this, we sometimes lose our sense of culpability and our logic diminishes. We have entered an age where people continually post messages that they shouldn’t and that could get very easily get them in trouble. It is almost as though many feel like messages sent in social media are less tangible than those written down or spoken aloud.
Sometimes I want to reach inside my phone and tell that girl (we all know which girl I’m talking about) who posts nearly naked duck-face selfies every night with thought-provoking captions (because that makes it more dignified) and tell her that her grandchildren will see that photo one day and be absolutely mortified. I think a good way to put this entire social media debacle into perspective is by employing Tom Standage’s Coffee House example of Social Networking in the 1600s. As he explains, “People went to coffeehouses not just to drink coffee, but to read and discuss the latest pamphlets and news-sheets and to catch up on rumor and gossip” (Standage 1). My opinion is that if you wouldn’t say it or show it (bathroom mirror pictures) in a coffeehouse, don’t post it online. By all means, be creative and share your thoughts, but use discretion. If you would not be comfortable stating something in front of people in person, don’t Tweet it or turn it into Facebook status just because you have the luxury of sitting behind a computer screen. The most important thing to remember is that although posts on social media enter cyberspace as opposed to the physical world, they are viewed by real people in real time.