The “Over-Sharing” Epidemic: How the Internet Makes Us Devalue Our Private Lives


The internet and social media give us the ability to broadcast our thoughts and feelings to the world at a moment’s notice. While there are many advantages to this ability to instantly communicate and reach out to others, it also breeds an environment of over-sharing.

Today, everyone seems to have a “digital self.” Our status updates on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest reveal a bit about who we are to the public. And as we know from countless controversies regarding celebrities and politicians, our “digital self” is intertwined with our public image and reputation.

Social scientists sometimes refer to this phenomenon as “ambient awareness,” which is a peripheral social awareness that we pick up about a person depending on what they “like” and “share” on social media. I first heard about this concept in the book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better.

We have to be mindful of the “ambient awareness” we are sending to others. Whenever you “like” or “share” something on social media, you need to understand that you are sending out a signal to other people, and they are going to form a judgement about you based on that signal.

One study published in Computers in Human Behavior reveals that we often share on social media to express our “true selves.” This desire often stems from our need for a “sense of belonging.”

We have a natural desire to be accepted by others. Having strong social ties is an important factor in our success and evolution as a species. When other people “like” or “share” our updates, we often get a temporary high from it in our brains.

However, when we over-share on social media we become “approval-seeking machines.” Every thought, feeling, and opinion needs to be broadcasted to the public, and we no longer have a sense of what should be kept private.

People often complain about how the internet is killing “privacy” because of big governments and big corporations, but the truth is we are killing “privacy” all by ourselves, because we no longer have a culture that really values it.

Everyone wants to be their “true selves.” Everyone wants to “express who they really are.” And social media has given us a way to craft this identity and share it with the anyone. But in the midst of all that, we’ve become obsessed with our public appearance and reputation. We’ve become obsessed with signaling to others who we really are.

Why is privacy important? Why should I keep things to myself? Why shouldn’t I express my true thoughts and feelings?

One key reason to value privacy is because there will always be people who misunderstand you and judge you negatively for who you are. That doesn’t mean they are right, but there are limitations to how much you can “win people over” or “get everyone to accept you.” And sometimes the best way to win certain games is to just stop playing them.

Everyone wants to be accepted. But not everyone is going to accept you.

Searching for “acceptance” on the internet can be a dangerous thing, because there will always be bullies, trolls, and meanies looking to bring you down. If you have a particularly fragile ego, broadcasting yourself on the internet is a recipe for disaster.

If you are the type of person who “over-shares” on the internet, it could mean that you aren’t getting the acceptance you are looking for in your life. That sucks, but you should probably focus more on cultivating “acceptance” among close friends and family who actually do know you well and care about you.

I also find myself “over-sharing” when my mind feels overloaded and I feel like I need to purge some of my thoughts and feelings. In these cases, I find it helpful to express myself in more private ways, whether it’s writing in a journal, or making music, or drawing.

Here’s an interesting method that has helped me. Sometimes I write out a really long Facebook status, but instead of hitting “Submit” I just take a screenshot of it and save it in a folder. In this way, I’m able to express my thoughts and save them without feeling the need to broadcast them to others all the time.

Do you have a problem with “over-sharing?” What do you think are the main causes behind it? What are some more “private ways” you can express yourself in the future?

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