Amid the COVID-19 crisis, many of us are taking social distancing precautions by staying home as much as possible. Consequently, the crisis is making social media a bigger part of our lives. We’re using it to keep up with the news, connect with loved ones and share the day-to-day realities of living through an unprecedented time.
However, there’s a dark side to sharing too much on social media. Letting our guard down online may compromise our well-being, finances and privacy. And while these dangers are not new, they may be of increasing concern as stress and loneliness drive us to digitize personal parts of our lives.
Oversharing impacts more than just your online presence
Telling the online world everything about your life can put your psychological well-being, financial security and personal information in a vulnerable position. Here are some of the dangers of oversharing online.
It can be damaging to your mental health
Using social media is a double-edged sword for our mental health. On the positive side, we can keep up with relatives, build friendships and share information — important activities for our well-being that may otherwise be difficult to do while following social distancing guidelines.
But there can also be some serious downsides to problematic social media use, which seems to be happening even more often during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Kristin Bianchi, licensed psychologist at the Center for Anxiety & Behavioral Change in Rockville, Md.
“A desire for human connection, coupled with loneliness, can lead us to make overly personal disclosures to large groups of people without recognizing the limits of our audience,” said Bianchi. “By and large, as the pandemic continues, we’re seeing people make personal disclosures on social media in greater quantity and with higher frequency.”
This can, in turn, impact our psychological health. A study published in 2018, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 1,700 adults ages 19 to 32, found that those who spent more time on social media and used it in a more emotionally intense way showed more symptoms of depression and anxiety compared with their peers who didn’t have as much problematic social media use.
Those findings echo what’s been discovered in a large body of research on mental health and sharing online, which has found connections between certain types of social media use and lower rates of overall well-being, a negative impact on self-esteem and higher levels of stress.
“Oversharing on social media can prevent us from developing healthier, more internally derived strategies to cope with our distress and manage our intense emotions,” explained Bianchi.
Your financial security may be at risk
You’ve probably heard the phrase that social media is a highlight reel — not real life. Creating that highlight reel can have real-life implications on your finances, though.
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found an association between frequency of Facebook use and lower credit scores and greater credit card debt. What’s more, a 2018 survey from Allianz Life showed that 57% of Millennials made unplanned purchases after scrolling through their social media feeds.
“When we see our peers showcasing the more glamorous (and often heavily edited) aspects of their lives on social media, it’s human nature to wonder whether or not we’re measuring up,” said Bianchi. “For some, this self-doubt can give rise to efforts to match or ‘best’ their peers, even when doing so may entail living above one’s means.”
Buying an ice cream cone to photograph for Instagram might not break the bank, but constantly splurging on luxurious vacations, designer clothes and fancy furniture to share online could lead to financial problems down the road. If you put these purchases on credit cards and can’t keep up with the payments, your credit score may take a hit and you may find yourself crunching numbers to consolidate your debt, reworking your budget or taking on side jobs to cover your costs.
You open the door to cybersecurity threats
The content of social media posts could be a gold mine for cybercriminals who want to steal your identity. Anything that you post to a social-networking site is no longer considered private information, and may be used to commit crimes, according to the FBI.
Cybercriminals scour social media platforms looking at publicly available posts about things like where you work, where you went to college or a new product you ordered from a particular online store. They can then use that information to send you authentic-looking emails (say, a message that looks like it’s coming from an online retailer you recently shopped at).
The emails may include a link to an official-looking website that asks for your personal information, which could allow hackers to gain access to your passwords, credit card numbers, sensitive data and other security details.
Oversharing on social media can also reveal details that can help an identity thief guess your password or correctly answer “challenge” questions to gain access to your online accounts, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). For example, if you post a photo of your first pet from childhood, a cybercriminal could get the correct answer to one of the challenge questions on your bank account.
Before you share, ask yourself these questions
1. What do I hope to gain from this post, and how likely is it that I’ll get the outcomes I’m hoping for?
Understanding the purpose behind your post can help you determine whether you’re simply sharing a moment of your life with others, or relying on social media for a potentially unhealthy purpose.
“Making personal disclosures reinforces patterns of relying on other people to help us self-soothe and can contribute to feelings of abandonment if our disclosures don’t elicit the types of responses that we’re seeking,” explained Bianchi.
2. Why am I sharing this on social media instead of turning to my trusted social support network?
If you’re struggling with certain emotions, you may feel compelled to share your pain on social media to feel less alone, said Bianchi. However, those in your inner circle (like close family and friends), or a mental health professional, may be better equipped to help you than your followers.
3. How might I feel if I don’t get the reaction I would like?
Before you spend lots of time taking an Instagram-worthy photo with a deeply personal caption in an effort to get lots of “likes,” think about how you’ll feel if your followers don’t pay attention to your post. Will it make you feel depressed? If so, perhaps you can explore other ways to express yourself that don’t rely on hundreds of “likes” online.
Simply calling a friend and sharing your thoughts may prove more uplifting than creating a social media post.
4. Could this post compromise my security?
Details like your first car, the name of your elementary school or your mother’s maiden name are often the answers to common security questions for online accounts, according to the Journal of Accountancy. Think twice before posting anything on social media that could give a cybercriminal clues about your passwords.