Wright Team | June 8, 2021

Oversharing Online: The Real Cost of Embarrassing Yourself on the Internet

We’ve all heard the horror stories and reputation damage that can come from oversharing online.

There is a real cost to oversharing online.

It happens repeatedly—people send a selfie, offer up their private information, or can’t resist the siren song of social media.

It’s not to say that the internet isn’t a fantastic tool. It allows us to work, communicate, learn, and access endless information. But like any tool, it can become dangerous if we use it in the wrong ways. Oversharing online can result in irreparable damage to one’s career, relationships, and sense of self-worth.

So what are some online safety tips we can follow to avoid oversharing online? How do we connect with others without putting ourselves in dangerous territory? Moreover, how do we avoid the soft addition of the internet and use the tool for good?

The Dangers of Oversharing Online

Most of us already know the dangers of oversharing online. How many times do we hear about yet another incident where someone shared something personal, only to quickly regret it? Try as we might, once something has been shared into the online universe, it’s nearly impossible to retract. It’s vital to protect our online reputation by avoiding dangerous behaviors.

Not to say that we should avoid the internet altogether, of course. The internet is one of the most amazing communication methods and cultural advancements we have as a species. We can use the internet for all sorts of positive and quality activities.

Yet, all our time online puts us in a precarious position. In the internet age, our privacy isn’t really ours anymore—and that doesn’t refer to the NSA viewing our conversations, Facebook algorithms, or foreign hackers stealing our credit card information. These are dangers, to be sure, but the threats are relatively benign or out of our control for most of us.

The real danger of the internet comes for the teen girl who sends a topless selfie to her boyfriend, only to find out he shares it with friends, classmates, and eventually the entire school. Or the college-grad that shares his extreme political views online and loses out on a job opportunity.

We see politicians destroy their careers by posting nude pictures on the web. Not only do they embarrass their families and their spouse, but their career is often ended too. We hear about it happening with celebrities too. Famous people overshare and end up paying the price. But for every high-profile scandal that we read about, there are hundreds of other unfamous people who ruin their lives by oversharing online.

We’ve all heard the saying that “you don’t want to be caught with your pants down,” but people are literally pantsing themselves and putting on the internet for all the world to see.

Now, the counterpoint to this is often, “Well, I’m not ashamed of my body,” or caution against a too puritanical view of the human form. But for the teen girl who overshares with a nude selfie, it’s not an example of self-acceptance and pride. There’s no artistic expression to a coerced photo, hastily shared. Instead, it’s an example of demeaning oneself. Oversharing online is often a sign that we’re insecure and we need to approval of others.

Oversharing Online and Protecting Our Careers

Oversharing online can lead to several dangers. One of the most significant areas of concern is our careers. When we overshare online, we’re putting our jobs and our reputations in jeopardy.

In job interviews, employers often search a potential employee’s online profile. Even if we’ve adjusted our Facebook settings to “private,” we may not be safe. Online search and online reputation management can go very deep to discover nitty-gritty details about past actions.

Look at the politicians who have engaged in questionable behavior years ago. When they run for office, it still comes up. Someone discovers an old Facebook photo, a poorly considered Tweet, or comments in an online forum that can get the person into hot water.

For sensitive jobs, employers will pass if they think a potential candidate can’t protect their online reputation. Employers want to know they aren’t going to face a scandal a few months after hiring, so they won’t hire a liability.

Undoing a misstep online is like putting toothpaste back in the tube—we can’t do it. The best way to protect our online reputation is not to allow ourselves to get in the position in the first place. Just don’t do it.

If we want to protect our online reputation, keeping it clean goes a long way. Before we post something, we should always ask ourselves if a potential employer saw this, would it be embarrassing? If we wouldn’t share something with our employer in person, we probably shouldn’t be sharing it online either. If there’s something out there now that seems questionable, remove it before it becomes an issue.

What Does Your Selfie Say About Your Relationship?

Not only can our online missteps haunt us from a career perspective, but they can damage our relationships and crush our self-image. Many people think that sharing a nude photo is a way to flirt, connect, or express ourselves as sexual beings. But the truth is when we send that photo, there’s no guarantee that it is safe.

Moreover, a nude photo is not intimacy. It’s a lie. It’s a cheap way of trying to seduce another person without getting to know them or really being our authentic selves. If we love ourselves, we don’t send out naked pictures to “trick” someone into liking or validating us. We realize that intimacy comes from authentically and unapologetically expressing ourselves.

A nude photo is avoiding engagement. It’s avoiding openly telling someone, “I really want you to know I hunger for your approval. I really want you to know I want you to be with me.” It’s not true to who we are.

The nude photo isn’t a one-sided problem, either. The onus is on both parties. If a young man, for example, coerces another young person to share an intimate image—he isn’t doing it because he cares about them or longs to see them. He’s requesting the photo because he wants to know he can make a demand and have it met. The person who complies with his request hands him a free pass to destroy their reputation because they’re desperate for approval. If the requester genuinely cared about the person, they wouldn’t make a request that would put them in this dangerous position. This phenomenon is especially problematic in young people who don’t yet grasp the ramifications and permanence of an online scandal.

Handing an intimate photo to someone who doesn’t care about us is risky and not in line with common sense internet safety. How can we trust what the other person will do with that photo? Will they show it to their friends? Share it?

Even in long-term relationships, the risk of recording and sharing intimate photos is high. If we’re trying to spice up our sex life or deal with a long-distance and full schedule in a relationship—we can find an alternative to putting something out there that could be discovered by someone else! Have phone sex—do whatever you do, but a photo can be found on a dropped phone at work or when a kid unlocks a screen password.

Addressing the Soft Addiction of the Internet

The other internet safety tip to avoid oversharing online is to pull back on using the internet. If we find ourselves unable to resist the urge to share photos of every meal, tweet every thought, or spend hours scrolling through Facebook, it indicates we’re experiencing a soft addiction.

As remarkable a resource as the internet can be, it can also be a big distraction and time-waster. Even though it seems like a harmless habit, constantly going online can destroy our productivity and focus.

Productive people don’t spend hours on social media each day catching up on the latest comments and news from their friends they haven’t seen in twenty years. They’re too busy being mindfully in the moment. Productive people know how to harness their potential and keep themselves away from these soft addictions.

Social media leaves us feeling empty. It can leave us feeling like we have overflowing inboxes we need to “manage” and responses we need to field. We may feel like we need to respond to every comment or get the feeling of “FOMO” when we look at photos and start comparing ourselves to others. Instead of picking up the phone and learning to connect with people and engage in genuine, honest, and authentic conversation, the internet provides a passive way to communicate and avoid deeper connections.

To avoid getting sucked into a soft addiction with the internet, we can set up a timeframe, limit our distractions, and use the tools we’ve amassed at our disposal. Most importantly, we can look at where we aren’t feeling fulfilled. If we’re looking to soft addictions to meet our yearnings (to connect, to love, to be seen, to be respected), we’re not truly getting the nourishment we need. Often when we find “real” ways to get our yearnings met—through better engagement, learning, growing, and building authentic connections—we’ll find that we’re no longer drawn to our time-wasting habits.

The internet can be a powerful tool to connect us, teach us, and help us work. It will never have the power of face-to-face interaction, but we can indeed harness it for the positive. Similar to the contrast of zoning out on a Netflix binge to attending a great film and discussing the details after, we can find many ways the internet can bring more beauty and new ideas into our lives.

We can protect ourselves from collateral damage and the peripheral costs of too much sharing. If we avoid putting anything online that we wouldn’t want to end up in the wrong hands, it’s a good start. We can learn to be smart on the internet and avoid letting our desire for affirmation or distraction drive us to do something we may later regret.

For a positive online experience, don’t miss the array of courses we have to offer on Wright Now. We offer courses to help you overcome soft addictions, learn more about yourself, strengthen your relationships, and get ahead in your career. Join us for an online experience you can feel good about!

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.