by Jayne Flaherty

Perhaps you’ve dashed into Woolies to pick up a carton of milk, and while paying at the checkout, the operator started talking about her teenage daughter’s deadbeat boyfriend.  Maybe you have a neighbour who routinely provides unsolicited updates about their irritable bowel problem.  These are oversharers.  They comprise a certain percentage of the population that either doesn’t know what’s generally considered inappropriate to divulge – or simply don’t care.

And these are merely the face-to-face, within-touching-distance kinds of sharing.

When it comes to posting things on the Internet, however, it seems anyone and everyone is susceptible to oversharing.  Social media exposes us to the real-time plasterings of meal pictures, of relationship horrors, of children’s talents, job successes, excruciating exercise details, you name it.

And some of my Facebook friends are no different.

For the record…  I am not particularly interested in a photo of your dinner.  I don’t need to read diatribe after diatribe of your political views (especially if I don’t agree with them).  I really do not need to know that you’re planning to cull your Facebook friends.  I couldn’t care less about the baby toys you’re selling (have you heard of Gumtree?).  And I really don’t give a rats that you’ve just ‘checked in’ to ‘such-and-such’ establishment to buy a ‘whatever’.

Why do we share?

Sharing personal information has forever been part of being human.  It helps us connect; it validates our existence; it makes us better friends or sisters or lovers. But what is it about the Internet that seems to make anyone and everyone susceptible to oversharing?  There’s apparently something alluring about filling those empty white boxes with embarrassing anecdotes – anecdotes that BuzzFeed then compiles and publishes in list form for everyone else to laugh at.  Plus, judging by humour sites such as Lamebook, there doesn’t appear to be a scarcity of material to draw from.  Even criminals can’t resist revealing incriminating evidence about themselves sometimes.

But why?  What compels us to tell the world with our fingers what we’d hesitate to utter in a room full of loved ones? Last year, researchers at Harvard found that the act of sharing our personal thoughts and feelings activates the brain’s neurochemical reward system in a bigger way than when we merely report the attitudes and opinions of others. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal asked around and concluded that our newfound urge to disclose is partially due to not only the erosion of private life through the proliferation of reality TV and social media, but also due to our subconscious attempts at controlling anxiety.

Psychologist Moira Shanahan thinks we’re losing a healthy sense of compartmentalisation. Whether online or in person, exchanges of information can be “absolutely very healthy,” says psychologist Moira  Shanahan.  “It allows us to be at varying levels in relation with others and have intimate moments with others.” But wait before taking that as an open door to constant heart outpourings.  Being subjected to the steady soundtrack of someone else’s feelings, activities, accomplishments and complaints can harm relationships, she says.“No one wants to endure a high-maintenance person on a consistent basis,” she says.  Instead, Shanahan advocates seeking out those two magic words: Happy medium. This sentiment is shared by Adelaide communications specialist, Amy McDonald; a self-confessed Facebook addict who posts at least three times per day. “I think the problem with Facebook is that it’s such a big part of my life but I haven’t quite got my head around how to deal with it when I’m ‘over it’,” she says. “For example, in real life if people are annoying me, I can just choose not to be around them, but with Facebook you can’t really escape.  Facebook is a bit like having no curtains on your windows.  You don’t really mind until one day you realise there’s a mob of strangers staring back at you as you’re getting dressed.”

“Self-disclosure is good,” Moira Shanahan says, “as long as it keeps the person who is self-disclosing safe and respectful of people around them.”

Social media etiquette

As we tweet, as we post on Facebook, and as we pour our hearts out to our 150 closest online ‘friends’, we assume our lives mean as much to them as they do to us.  We seek constant validation.  But seriously people… it’s time to get our collective act together and learn what’s enough, what’s too much and what is simply best kept to ourselves. Social media is an important part of your personal identity.  Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have a large reach, and failure to understand the proper etiquette for these platforms can be damaging and embarrassing. You don’t snap gum, tell crude jokes or chew with your mouth full in a business meeting, so don’t let sloppy Facebook behaviour damage your image in the same way. When it comes to oversharing on social media, social media expert Lani Prescher provides these etiquette tips to keep your online networking in check:

1.     #Don’t #Abuse #Hastags

Although they’re a convenient way to tag your posts for others to find, overuse of hashtags is irritating and can come across as spammy.  Limit your hashtags to a maximum of three per tweet and only use hashtags that are specific to cities, topics or events.  Think of hashtags as a search term, adding hashtags to general words like #dog and #yummy isn’t useful as a search term or an identifier.

2.     Don’t post to name drop

Sending a tweet full of twitter usernames or Facebook friends looks like you’re bragging about how many people you know.  Mentioning a few people for a good reason is fine, like thanking someone, but don’t tweet a list of ten people you just saw at a party.  Your followers aren’t interested.

3.     Don’t InstaDump

On Instagram, vine or similar sharing sites, try to space out your posts so that users’ feeds aren’t flooded with your content.  Over-posting in a short period of time can be tempting when you are on vacation and find a brief pocket of WiFi access, but don’t assume that your users are interested in having to scroll through 25 beach photos in a row.  Curate your best photos and post a maximum of three at a time.

4.     Don’t post private messages or potentially offensive content on someone’s Facebook wall

Everyone has different comfort levels regarding what goes on their Facebook wall.  Don’t post something potentially private on a friend’s wall unless you know they are comfortable with it being public. The same goes for links to content that could be considered offensive or polarising.  Just because you and your friends are strong supporters of the Extreme Anti-Vegan and Pro-Bacon Initiative doesn’t mean that they want all their friends and co-workers knowing about views they share in private.

5.     Don’t post public @replies

If you’re talking specifically to one person, keep it that way.  The whole world doesn’t want to eavesdrop on your discussions.  Tweets like “Hi @username it was great to see you the other day!” aren’t interesting or useful to your followers.

6.     Don’t post private screenshots of emails or text conversations

Screenshots of funny texts or notable emails have become a trend.  When you are texting or emailing someone, the assumption is that it’s between the two of you.  Posting a screen shot conversation without the other person’s consent is invasive and potentially detrimental to your relationship.

7.     Resist cross posting

If someone is following you on Instagram, they want to see your photos.  They don’t want to see screenshots of messages on notepad, text conversations, or blurry shots of a book passage you’re reading.  Use Instagram for photos and leave messages in the next field or for Twitter.


If you have used social media long enough, you have surely experienced a few of those head-shaking moments when you see a Facebook post or a tweet that has you saying to yourself: “What were they thinking?!” So in the hope of avoiding some of the more common cringe-inducing moments, and at the risk of oversharing myself, here are my pet hates;

  • Don’t use location-based check-in options.  Do we really need to know where you eat lunch?  And do you want others to know you eat out frequently and spend two hours a day not working?
  • Keep private things PRIVATE!  Too often I am seeing in my news feed inappropriate photos or statuses that is just way too much information.  Sure, social media is an opportunity to share special things in our lives, but do we really need to know that it’s your fifth trip to the bathroom before 9am?
  • Use correct spelling and grammar.  I know it’s the era of abbreviations and ‘text talk’, but how hard is it to write “What’s going on mate?” instead of “Wuts goin m8t?”.  Sorry, but if you write in text talk you’re presenting yourself as an uneducated knob.
  • Refrain from being insensitive.  We’ve all seen those tweets that leave you shaking your head in disbelief: people in South Australia complaining about a bit of rain while towns in Queensland and New South Wales are being flooded.  Have some perspective people and think about your social media comments in a wider context.
  • Keep the narcissism to a minimum.  Let’s face it, a social media account is about self-promotion.  But unless you’re still in primary school, the idea of constantly posting new profile pictures and other assorted ‘selfies’ and trawling for Likes smacks of a little too much self-love.  Baby photos are great, but too many photos of mummy’s six-pack abs four weeks after giving birth will not win you many new fans.
  • Grow up!  If you have ever announced that you’re about to undergo a cull of your Facebook friends, or continually post vague “I’m sad” or “I wish some people would return my calls” type statuses, then you’re in need a good dose of maturity.

Although we love how social media gives us insights into other people’s lives, at the same time there are thresholds we should not cross.

Social media offers us as wonderful opportunity to share our everyday experiences but, as in the real world, some things are just better left unsaid.