Are You a Candidate for Oversharing Anonymous?
Vacation at last! You walk into your luxurious hotel room. What a view! “Don´t touch anything!” you warn your spouse, to maintain the pristine scenery, as you whip out your device for the marathon photo shoot. After you have captured all angles and your other half can finally exhale, you post as fast as you can to your social media accounts for all of your friends to see. A few hours later, you check back to see the likes, loves, re-tweets, and comments that have been pouring in. Your friends are cheering you on, “wishing they were there.”
But is it just your friends who are looking? Have you ever considered what a friend of a friend of a friend who dislikes you might do with the information you share? Did you ever consider that God forbid you might innocently post something that an adversary can use against you?
Sure, vacation photos are usually benign, unless someone uses the information to strategize when to burglarize your house when you are not home (which has happened). But some people post extremely sensitive information they would not want just anyone to see.
So this begs the question: how much should you share? Considering the broad scope of modern social media networks, here are a few subject areas where you might want to pause before you post.
Sensitive Medical Information
I have many lovely friends who share photos from hospital rooms, asking for prayer before they go into surgery—resulting in massive support and encouragement. Yet there are limits within which even these friends would share private information—because it could be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Predators use sensitive information to exploit vulnerability. As a lawyer, I think I have heard every ambulance-chasing joke in existence. Yet the ethical concern is legitimate—we do not want anyone taking advantage of people who are physically or mentally compromised. This is a valid concern online as well. Do not give manipulators anything to work with.
There is also a risk that detractors or adversaries reading your posts could start rumors about the seriousness or cause of your condition, or share it with others you would not want to know.
Details About Your Children
I have spent enough years as a sex crimes prosecutor to know exactly how sexual predators use the information they find online. They too exploit areas of vulnerability, often ingratiating themselves with young people, masquerading as concerned supporters for troubled teens, capitalizing on information that has been shared by the teens or their parents.
They also use personal information you or your children have shared online to fake areas of similarity, with the goal of bonding through common ground. Whether strangers or acquaintances, malevolent manipulators masquerade as like-minded companions, pretending to also love comic books, video games, or whatever else your child enjoys. The goal is the same: ingratiation in pursuit of exploitation.
Better plan: carefully consider and limit the information you share about your children in order to protect them both on and offline.
The Virtual Water Cooler
You feel confident your personal information is safe because you do not post it. Yet too often, we fail to consider the friends-of-friends Facebook network where embarrassing information is posted not by you, but by people who know you.
Gossiping around the water cooler offline is bad enough. Sharing personal information online, considering the broad scope of people who can see it, can be devastating. Remember that not everyone is comfortable sharing their lives with others, even positive information. Being the first to announce the engagement of a friend or the promotion of a peer can be counterproductive if your friend or co-worker wanted to keep the information private, or control when, where, and how it was announced.
Share Responsibly and Respectfully
When posting, use common sense, and consider your broader audience. Avoid sharing information you would not want adversaries to see, and err on the side of caution when posting personal material about friends and connections. Because you never know who is looking.