There are three things you’re guaranteed to see daily on Facebook and Twitter; one: a picture of someone’s baby doing something mundane, like staring at a fork. Two: a holiday brag (“EVERYONE! I’m quaffing champagne in Terminal 5’s club lounge”). Three: an overshare, a cry for help along the lines of: “Just had some awful news.”
Clearly, it’s never nice when someone is going through a tough time, but I'm intrigued about why some of us feel compelled to broadcast it on social media. What happened to having a good weep down the phone to your mum?
One theory is that for many, our number one topic of conversation is me, myself and I. Last year, Harvard researchers found that when we talk about ourselves, the brain region responsible for reward is more highly engaged than when we report the thoughts and feelings of others. In many ways, divulging on social media is no different to how we’ve always talked through personal issues with friends and sought their support, says internet psychologist Graham Jones. Social media feels like a safe place to do this because our screen is filled with images of our friends.
I've mulled over 'why on earth?', and 'how can they?' hundreds of times when I see attention grabbing posts on Facebook, or cryptic tweets from friends on Twitter. Sadly, it is a cry for help, but oversharing via social media is never a good thing in my books, personally I find it too addictive, and having a relationship with a screen is not the same as human interaction. Ever.
Online, we can’t read non-verbal signals so we have to be more creative giving clues.
The difference though, is that we’re potentially airing our woes to billions of internet users. One reason for this disinhibition is that we can feel invisible online. We’re not looking at anyone face-to-face so we tend to reveal more.
Social media bean spilling can also serve as a confidence booster. Research has indicated that Facebook can boost self-esteem and posting our problems taps into that. Some people get a buzz out of sharing a problem and seeing a trail of concerned comments from their online connections. It’s about garnering attention, the more we reveal, the more interest we attract, especially if those revelations appear to be juicy secrets.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the cryptic SOS tweet or Facebook post. An ambiguous outpouring like: “So glad to have good friends at a time like this.” Which of course makes EVERYONE desperate to know what’s going on. When you’re with a friend in real life, you can see from their body language and mannerisms if something’s up and in that situation you’d ask if they were OK. But online, we can’t read non-verbal signals so we have to be more creative, more obvious in giving clues that something is bothering us.
For some people, virtual sharing can be useful and cathartic but a word of caution - part of the process of getting to know someone is self-disclosure. If I tell you something intimate about myself, I expect you to tell me something about you in return. This normally helps us get to know each other and build trust. But without face-to-face encounters and with the anonymity we have online, this trust could be breached and our secret could be re-tweeted, broadcast, or passed along.
No matter what you're doing, is it always necessary to share? Think twice about tweeting what you eat, and sharing isn't always caring.