When online oversharing crosses the line, here’s what we owe each other

Social media

How does one begin to process the monumental loss of a parent?

If you have ever spoken to anyone who experienced that pain, one common truth about that experience is that true healing is always elusive. There may come a calm acceptance in time.

What happens when you find out about such loss not through your loved ones but via the WhatsApp status of your contacts – an acquaintance perhaps or even a neighbour?

Twitter user @Shaalewa, did and she shared the experience with her followers in a tweet that has since gone viral. The result is a disturbing number of comments revealing they also have had a similar experience in the past.

The conversation about oversharing on social media has been ongoing for a while now. The conclusion is unanimous, in that there is no doubt that oversharing is endemic across all social media platforms. It’s everywhere and while even the lousiest armchair psychologist can confirm to anyone who listens that oversharing is one common trait associated with narcissism, it is hard to find an argument against oversharing in a culture that is increasingly concerned about mental health.

How do you tell people to clam up if you are also advising openness and vulnerability to foster mental stability?

This is a case of identifying and honouring boundaries.

It is one thing for one to share their own tragedies, even if that has the downside of coming off as ‘sadfishing’ – a term that means seeking sympathy by oversharing online. It is another thing when what you overshare is the tragedies of others, and this is where one somersaults right over the line and crosses the boundary of what is ethical to overshare.

@Shaalewa and the tens of people in her comments who share her experience are victims of the latter. A complete disregard for where the line must be drawn when we seek to share things online about our lives. Even where the experience is a shared experience – say a lovers row, being attuned to our culture  is a helpful litmus test to guide our sharing.

If the person who posted about her mother’s death on WhatsApp had stopped for a second to renew their awareness of a well-known Nigerian fact – the best way to find out about the death of one’s loved ones is via other loved one, and considered whether or not @shaalewa knows of her mother’s death before posting this won’t have happened. The same applies to everyone with a similar experience.

With the global melding of cultures as we increasingly interact with cultures miles away from ours on the equal playing field of the internet, an argument for cultural sensitivity is easily dismissible. Because of this, a litmus test for how the person at the receiving end of an oversharing that crosses the line of acceptable oversharing must be how what we are doing affects the mental health of the said person.

A common thread in the comments under @Shaalewa’s tweet sharing a similar experience speaks of how deeper the grief cut finding out about a loss through an unrelated third party. It is no doubt therefore that this is immensely harmful.

An appeal to empathy and emotional intelligence is thus necessary. We have to hold ourselves to greater responsibility when it comes to sharing online. If it is not yours handle with care, better yet steer clear of it as best as you can.

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