The oversharing society
People increasingly make private moments public, and social media are intruding on our lives as never before. We must develop new skills of restraint, empathy and resilience
“While [sharing] helps us to create connections, there are risks, and one of those risks is that people feel it’s okay to share photos of us at our most vulnerable, [with the justification that] photos are shared all the time, so why not?” says John Buckley of the youth organisation SpunOut.ie.
Buckley talks about photographs uploaded when the subjects are drunk, falling over and at their most vulnerable. “The cause of that is something we don’t know,” he says, adding that there is a growing volume of research, but samples are generally small. Facebook is also believed to be carrying out “compassion research”, which might examine some of these issues.
Much of this behaviour is due to a dearth of empathy. The Roots of Empathy programme, which is run in some Irish schools and is supported by Barnardos, the HSE and the EU, shows that empathy, as well as being an inherent part of the human condition, is also a skill. “It seems to be missing online sometimes,” Buckley says. When it comes to making those intrusions and sharing inappropriate or embarrassing information about someone, “there are a huge amount of empathic people online who counter this. People are displaying empathy and people aren’t.
“People do that in the wider world as well. The internet is a vessel for human behaviour. I don’t think it can be blamed for human behaviour. I think people can do more to combat it, as can the platforms, but we are responsible for our behaviour.”
Another skill that needs honing in the age of social media is resilience, according to Buckley. “We’re still facing racism, misogyny, abuse in many forms. We adapt our resilience. When we were huntergatherers we were resilient enough to get through hungry times. Now we need to build an emotional resilience to get through comments that are aimed at us. We need to teach that better. These comments will potentially always be there, but how we deal with it can change.”
Buckley says that intrusion on social media among young people is “coming up more and more, particularly those photos and videos of us at our most vulnerable”.
The repercussions of becoming what could be called “shamous”, as opposed to famous, online are brutal. But they are also shortlived. Sharing on social media is a whirlwind, and platforms that depend on users handing over personal information are also hungry beasts that need constant feeding.
Although it may be scant consolation if you’re the person at the centre of an unwanted storm, the shortening viral cycle means something that explodes online can be old news within hours. Most sharing is benign: just people archiving their lives, connecting with each other, capturing daily moments. But as we increase the information we’re willing to share, privacy becomes a more archaic concept, and also a more sacred one.
“I think sharing is only going to become more prevalent,” says O’Leary. “We’re entering a generation in which people who are teenagers or even younger expect to document their lives online. They expect to share everything they do socially. Fewer and fewer things are considered off the record, or things they don’t want people to know about.
“I think in tandem with that there have been a number of high-profile cases in the past 18 months where the legal system has begun to catch up with what you can and can’t do online. So what I hope is that there’s a change in the content of what we share online. A realisation is forming that it’s not okay to share certain things.”