Free Press Journal

Beware of what you share on social media


The next time you have an irresistible urge to share your personal details, or pictures, on social media, pause and think of the consequences, suggests Manoj Soral

Not so long ago, when people used pens instead of keyboards, they used to write their personal thoughts in a little diary. And if someone dared to open it, that person was doomed. But this is the age of the sharing brigade. Whether they are at a restaurant, at the airport, a movie theater, on a vacation, in a relationship or out of it, smooching or hugging each other, their smartphone is recording it all. And you are not only supposed to see it, but also ‘like’ it. If you don’t, you are doomed.

This penchant for sharing seems to be growing by the day, especially in emerging economies like India. What began as a harmless and innocent online interaction with friends has now transformed into a compulsive and potentially harmful habit of oversharing on social media.

Expression overload

Things have come to such a pass that even personal details, that can leave the user vulnerable to all sorts of trouble, are being shared thoughtlessly. “People share on social media because they have found it a liberating platform of expression. In a society that has always curbed freedom of expression, this is an easy platform to verbalise one’s thoughts and feelings. So, certain types of people like to share their feelings, whether it is angst or joy, on social media,” says Dr. Anju Kapoor, a qualified psychologist and the principal of a management college in Mumbai.

According to R. Sridhar, a journalist and life coach, it is the users’ innate sense of insecurity that prompts them to seek validation outside so that they feel better inside. Dr. Kapoor agrees, “Sharing can be therapeutic for certain individuals. It helps them feel lighter. They are actually seeking other people’s opinions, wanting them to endorse their views. People who come to me for counseling are dealing with self-esteem issues. So, if such a person gets some praise for a social media post, it helps them and I do not discourage them from using social media. But there is always a rider, just like the warning on a cigarette packet. It is up to the people how seriously they take it.”

Many observers of this phenomenon believe that apart from the psychological reasons mentioned above, it is also the sheer ease of expressing yourself online which encourages oversharing. Social media websites actively encourage users to share as much as they wish to. In a not so subtle manner, they have created an impression that if you do not share on social media, you are not in sync with the times.

Enticement galore

To see how they coax you into sharing, all you have to do is stop posting on them for some time. You will be bombarded with messages telling you that your friends have just posted something. Of course, the unwritten message behind it is, ‘Why don’t you post something too?’ And apparently, a vast number of users cannot help being lured by them. This is especially the case in countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Philippines and Mexico, which are far ahead of US, UK and European countries when it comes to using the social media. According to a study conducted at the beginning of this year, there will be around 260 million social media users in India by 2019. And this figure is expected to rise to nearly 380 million by 2022.

Considering the sheer scale of oversharing personal information on social media by such a vast number of users, many people including the police, psychologists and observers are worried about what it could eventually lead to. It can certainly be unhealthy, they say. “To give just one example, over-sharing on the social media can lead to comparison between friends. When someone posts pictures of their vacation in a foreign country, another user, who cannot afford such a vacation, could feel depressed and even jealous. Apart from this, there is the mental pressure of always posting something or the other. Otherwise, the user feels ‘left out’. This is a great drain on one’s energy and it takes a heavy toll on one’s life, work and relationships,” says Preeti Mishra, an energy healer based in Mumbai.

Hidden traps

“Excessive sharing in social media can lead to a lot of problems for the user later on,” warns a senior police officer in Mumbai, requesting anonymity. “It is a clear invitation to cyber criminals who are always looking for personal information. These days, they can find your email address and even password by looking at some of your personal information. Then it becomes very easy for them to gain access to your bank account and make purchases on your behalf.”

Many users just love to share their pictures on social media, but very few realise that these pictures might be ‘geo-tagged’, which means they reveal the user’s current geographical location. This could be just the information that a stalker or a thief might be looking for. Posting updates about one’s regular routine could give the public a general idea of where one is at a given time, which could make the user an easy target of thieves.

Technology is a tool in our hands. How we use it is up to us. It certainly has its disadvantages, agrees Dr. Kapoor. “Some people like to project a social image that is over-the-top or flashy. So, they may unwittingly reveal too many personal details on the social media. The repercussions of that can be dangerous. Everything has a price,” she cautions. And studies corroborate what she says. According to one conducted in Europe three years ago, over 80 per cent of internet related crimes became possible because of a social networking site. According to another report, the profiles of nearly 40 per cent of social network users have been hacked at one time or the other. Criminals are becoming increasingly aware of the potential of the information available on social network sites. Nearly 80 per cent of burglars admitted that they used social media sites to get information on their victims. Around 50 per cent of child sex offenders reportedly got information about their victims from their social media profile.

So, the next time you have this irresistible urge to share your personal details, or pictures, on social media, just pause and think of the consequences. And if you feel like ranting about something on your favourite social media site, think twice. After all, we all know what happened to a celebrated comedian when he shared his ranting on social media!