We all could use a filter when it comes to posting things online. Just ask New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Or actor Alec Baldwin. Or journalist Geraldo Rivera.
All have Tweeted, or Facebooked, or shared pictures, thoughts and opinions that they lived to regret. A case of “too much information,” which seems to happen quite a bit in the digital age.
"Sharing itself is not new, but consumers now have unlimited opportunities to share their thoughts, opinions, and photos, or otherwise promote themselves and their self-image online,” said Russell Belk, a York University professor and author of a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. “Digital devices help us share more, and more broadly, then ever before."
The good and the bad
And that's not always a good thing. Blogging encourages us to share everything. What is YouTube's slogan? “Broadcast yourself.” Sometimes sharing is good, sometimes it's not so good.
An example of a good kind of sharing is when consumers share their experience with a product or service, on sites like ConsumerAffairs. These reviews can help other consumers make better, more informed decisions.
But on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, posters sometimes disable their filters. For example, Dianne, of Sunderland, UK, is an artist who says she focuses on “sensual art,” similar to what you see on Khajuraho temples in India – except that the subjects in her art are “elves and extraterrestrials.” She didn't get a good reception when she posted some of her erotic art on Facebook.
“It had started about a year ago, where they would remove my artwork and then block me over a 30-day period,” she shared in a ConsumerAffairs post.
Eye of the beholder
To Dianne, her work is art, erotic though it might be. To others viewing her page, however, it might appear to be something else entirely. In Dianne's case, she might do well to consider a different venue for her work, one where her intent and purpose would not be misconstrued.
Alice, of Branchville, N.J., likes to share her politics. She says she's a retired teacher who strongly supports 2nd Amendment rights. She shares those views freely on Facebook, sometimes triggering a sharp reaction from people reading her posts.
“I do not use foul language,” she writes. “I am a Christian. I do not threaten. I do not post pornography. I do urge all to use their legal rights to redress by contacting their representatives through peaceful protesting and boycotting. All of these are legal and it is our right as free Americans. My views may upset the liberals and Socialists; however, I have a right to free speech.”
Facebook, or course, has rights too – including the right to set terms and conditions for the use of its site. After all, consumers aren't paying anything to use it and Facebook has to try and keep 800 million people happy. The bigger issue, however, may be how much and what kind of information should be shared in the first place.
Brave new world
In the normal world, if you climb up on a soap box and deliver a rousing, opinionated speech, only those within earshot are exposed. If you tell a raunchy joke or recount your exploits during a serious night on the town, only a small circle of people know your secret. When you post on the Internet, it can go viral.
"Due to an online disinhibition effect and a tendency to confess to far more shortcomings and errors than they would divulge face-to-face, consumers seem to disclose more and may wind up 'oversharing' through digital media to their eventual regret," Belk said.
Don't press send
Over-sharing happens a lot in the sports world, where egos are large and emotions often run high. Former NFL player and coach Herman Edwards delivered memorable advice to rookies in a seminar at the start of the 2011 season. He warned the young athletes, most of whom had just become millionaires, that expressing themselves in anger on Twitter would lead to unwanted, and perhaps career-damaging publicity.
“You know the little 'send' button on your phone?” he asked. “Instead of 'send' on the phone there should be a button that says 'don't press send.' So when you Tweet all that stuff out and you get ready, you'll stop and think. 'Don't press send.'”
Finally, sharing too much information on Twitter or Facebook could damage your reputation in real and tangible ways. A 2012 study of employers from six different industries revealed that many employers are using the Facebook profiles of job candidates to filter out weaker applicants based on perception of lifestyle, attitudes and personal appearance.
In other words, it could keep you from making the final cut. You can argue the fairness of it, but it's becoming a fact of life.
So when you are tempted to let it all hang out, perhaps it would be wise to remember Herman Edwards' advice: “Don't press send.”