Is Oversharing Killing Us?

By Rhiann Hanson | @rhiannlouisehanson

As young people’s lives are increasingly lived online, the boundaries of privacy have become more and more blurred. But what’s the difference between simply sharing something, and oversharing? And do our new attitudes to privacy do more harm or good?

“There’s been a lot of videos about how X amount of X tablets didn’t work to end their life, and it’s a bunch of different people commenting how many they took, it can become very toxic and competitive.”19-year-old Amy Dorrington is describing some of the content that she encounters on TikTok. Amy herself has racked up over 350,000 views on the platform, and she self-describes her content as “oversharing”. “A lot of people go on TikTok to try and relate to people and feel less alone”, she reflects. “I think me being open or “oversharing” lets people know that there are a lot of other people they can relate to and have been in similar situations.”

As young people’s lives are increasingly lived online, the boundaries of privacy have become more and more blurred. But what’s the difference between simply sharing something, and oversharing? And do our new attitudes to privacy do more harm or good?

When trying to talk openly about this, a big stumbling block is defining what “oversharing” is in the first place. Think about it yourself: what is it to you? At what exact point do you see someone sharing something about their lives that you think they have taken it too far? Or do you believe that there is no such thing as oversharing?

photograph by Mortortion

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the official definition of oversharing is ‘to tell people too much personal information about yourself.’ Decades ago sharing personal information such as mental health issues, relationship issues and more was something you would usually keep private, but the world we currently live in has changed. We now have more platforms on social media to say whatever we want and have no limits. However, the problem with having no limits is that the line between keeping things private or not has become blurred and no one really knows what is deemed as too much. 

Oversharing in real life and oversharing on social media are two very different things. Talking to friends and family you trust and are close to isn’t seen to be that abnormal as sometimes you just want an opinion from someone you know or you are just in need of help in a situation. Oversharing on social media however, is very different. You are telling thousands or sometimes millions of people things that could potentially put you at risk. So why do people want to do this if it can have serious consequences?

For Amy, TikTok “lets people know that there are a lot of other people they can relate to and have been in similar situations.” Amy uploads videos about her life that includes text talking about her being in psych wards and also her eating disorder and general mental health. And they’re certainly popular: one of her videos has nearly a million views. The comments on her videos are filled with people that are relating to her – one comment even says “I feel so safe in this comment section.” This is the positive side of oversharing, where individuals are creating that safe space for others to talk about their mental health and relate to one another. In their personal lives they may not have anyone to relate to or who really understands, therefore platforms such as TikTok introduces you to millions of people who are going through the same thing as you. It’s potentially a great way to feel less lonely and can improve people’s mental health just by talking to someone else. In addition to no longer feeling lonely, these people might even feel a release of tension that has been built up inside of them with not being able to talk to anyone up until this point.

But clearly, not all young people have the same attitudes towards what should or should not be shared. In an Instagram poll created for this article, 88% of respondents said that they have seen a TikTok where they think someone may have shared too much. Interestingly, 48% of respondents said that they themselves had overshared. For a lot of people when they overshare they can regret it, whether it’s the fact that information is now out there or  the person you are oversharing to. Although Amy tells me she has “never regretted oversharing”, she also says she regrets oversharing “to certain people and the type of audience it may reach, such as people who still believe in the stigma around mental illness, for example if you can do x why can’t you do z.” The reaction plays a big part in oversharing as that can either make you feel better or worse depending on how they react, however on TikTok the issue is you can’t control other people’s reactions. 

“trends of triggering pictures”

Amy Dorrington

Although this is a positive reason to overshare, there are some instances where it’s not so positive. Amy mentions that she has seen “so many” videos of people oversharing that include “trends of triggering pictures.” Considering the fact these are described as “trends”, it shows that there are thousands of people doing the same thing and posting things that may well be triggering for others just . as an attempt to trend on social media. She acknowledges  that oversharing can be problematic when people “post fresh self-harm, go into detail about personal things such as the self-harm or suicide attempts…”This is the dark side of oversharing:  people using their mental illnesses as competition with one another, which does more harm than good as mental health should always be taken seriously. In addition to this, battling over who has taken the most tablets or who has tried to commit suicide the most times online puts you in a really vulnerable position and people might take advantage of that online. 

A main concern of mine is younger children on TikTok. Considering the fact they can view anything and everything on there with simply lying about their age is more than scary. Although the app has certain guidelines in place for inappropriate content and they have stated in their guidelines they ‘remove content that depicts suicide, involves suicidal ideation, or that might encourage suicidal or self-injurious behaviour,’ millions of videos still exist on the app. In fact I can go on TikTok and find a video that involves potentially encouraging suicidal behaviour within one minute. The reason this is so easy to do is because the users of TikTok know how to get around the guidelines, so for example instead of actually typing the words ‘self harm’ they will instead abbreviate it to ‘sh.’ This means it can still appear on people’s personal for you page’s. 

A lot of younger children are being exposed to inappropriate content and it is posing a risk to them and the way they react to it. It is simple to overlook this and not look too deep into it as oversharing has now become normalised. After interviewing Simon Boag, a lecturer in the department of psychology at Macquarie University, he explains that ‘there’s a social standard that people tend to conform to as a general rule.’ This shows that once the majority of us as a society allow something to become socially acceptable it’s almost as though there’s no going back and we shouldn’t question it. This seems to be the reason I myself have not seen many concerns when it comes to younger children witnessing others going into depths about their lives and mainly their mental health. As oversharing is becoming more normalised, children watching these TikTok’s can start to believe it’s normal to try and commit suicide, self harm, make jokes about mental health etc and it can become quite downplayed. Although the way people share about their mental health can be a coping mechanism online these are also the dangers that come along with that. 

Simon himself explains ‘I have younger children and we try to be as strict as possible with social media but there’s the possibility of what people access and there’s stuff there that I certainly wouldn’t want to see and I hate to think that my children might be exposed to these kinds of things as well.’ Parents may feel they are not in control of the situation of what their children are viewing as it’s easy to be exposed to these things even if it’s just their friends showing them at school and Simon explains: ‘kids in school all have their phones and they are basically little pocket computers.’ However parents at the least need to be made aware of what their children are watching as apps such as TikTok are often thought of to be funny and light-hearted and that’s often why parents allow their children to be on there, but there’s much more on there.

“I hate to think that my children might be exposed to these kinds of things”

Simon Boag

No matter what your own personal definition of oversharing is, there are still risks and dangers involved when oversharing happens, especially on social media and that isn’t an opinion it is a fact. Awareness needs to be spread to the users of TikTok and also the parents of younger children to hopefully open their eyes to the dangers of what they might think are harmless videos for the sake of our society and children growing up in this generation.


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