The Politics of Oversharing on Social Media

Anaïs Cooper-Hackman
August 30, 2017

Snapchat’s recently-added map feature lets you track your “friends’” exact geo-location.

The FitBit app allows you to see precisely how many steps your coworkers have taken today.

Yet somehow, me posting about whether or not I can eat four-day old leftovers is going too far. What gives?

One cannot participate in online culture (or offline culture for that matter) without encountering the concept of oversharing. To overshare, or to “reveal an inappropriate amount of detail about one’s personal life,” has quickly become the bane of social media’s existence. It’s common knowledge that some things are better left unsaid, but hey, we’re all human, and navigating a relatively new anti-social social scene can be more complicated than it looks.

Hey, self circa 2010, maybe don’t talk bad on the customers at your place of employment.

Recently, I got to thinking about what exactly constitutes as an “inappropriate amount of detail” and why, in a culture where the zeitgeist is authenticity, it makes everyone so uncomfortable.  

In my investigation, I discovered:

  1. Moments where I may have divulged too much, and…
  2. The digital canon in which examples of our unwritten social codes of conduct are catalogued and dissected, more commonly known as “the internet.”

I wanted to take a look at the complex politics of oversharing, outside of the more commonly discussed privacy concerns connected to sharing (ya know, kids ‘n crime) personal information online.

The most common form of oversharing happens with matters connected to the heart, so naturally when I began to think about my own digital habits, I went straight to my last relationship. When I went through a breakup back in April, I felt my social media presence change. So many times I typed out deeply personal messages fueled by disappointment and heartache. And each time, I hesitated and eventually abandoned my efforts before hitting “send.” On one hand, for some convoluted reason, I didn’t want to embarrass the man that broke my heart. On the other hand, in an equally depressing turn of events, I didn’t want to disrupt my content stream with depressing proof that contrary to what you see on social, I had failed at something.

I also had no desire to even go on social because I felt like there was no one I could identify with. Everyone else seemed to be living their best lives, while mine was falling apart. Seemingly overnight, my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds felt shockingly artificial.  

The Fine Line Between Oversharing and Authenticity

While pondering the conceivable reasons to be “pro-oversharing,” I couldn’t help but wonder—in a world where our time spent online increasingly matches our time connecting IRL, when will we end the highlight reel and start sharing the real stuff? We’re waking up to a world where we stress the importance of humanizing our “pupfluencers” and commercial brands but work hard to dehumanize ourselves.

Please do not let what I said on Facebook in 2010 impact my credibility as a social media professional in 2017. Please do not let what I said on Facebook in 2010 impact my credibility as a social media professional in 2017. Please do not…

As our audience expands and our content receives higher traffic, we focus less on the mundane moments of our everyday lives (which let’s get real, make up at least 90 percent of your average day) and more on the carefully curated content that is sure to garner likes, comments and shares. Millennials are total hustlers and talk of “personal branding” has hit an all-time high. It’s as if were all micro-influencers trying to convince our followings to lust over our unique brand of joie de vivre. Our startling preference for peer recommendations over overt advertising has created a culture where the line between oversharing and authenticity is finer than ever: It can either be your fast-track to fame or total social suicide.

Embracing Radical Digital Transparency

We all do it. Type out that we’re “happy to announce” that we’ve accepted our first job out of college, been granted an acceptance into a prestigious program, gotten engaged. And we all secretly hate in our various group chats on people who constantly humble brag. Yet somehow nothing is as taboo as sharing the real details of a challenging day, an awful week, a difficult month, a complicated life. I assume I can’t be the only one who finds being inundated with disingenuous content exhausting. And there’s proof in the popularity of artists like illustrator @bymariandrews and poet @rupikaur_, that we can all appreciate a bit of honesty and depth in our Instagram feeds.

You see, the thing about life is it’s really hard, and one of the hardest parts is learning how to be—and when to be—vulnerable.

It’s so cliche, but without experiencing the darkness, it would be impossible for us to appreciate the light. Now I’m not asking, or even encouraging you, to overshare the #realness of your personal life.

I’m just asking that you question your motivations for hesitating to do so.