Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 28, 2014

Are you oversharing on Facebook?

by JAMIE NULL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Are there no limits to oversharing these days? From Facebook to the old-fashioned bumper sticker, Americans are spilling their guts, blabbing their vacations plans and posting too much information about their children. It would be OK if oversharers were talking across the back yard fence, gossiping after church or chatting with acquaintances at the doctor’s office. Instead they are possibly sharing personal information with strangers. I have to wonder if any of them would walk up to a stranger and offer the same information they post online? I don’t think so.

How did this happen? As a child, I was taught to not talk to strangers. Then, years later, as a young woman, I was told to be aware of surroundings in parking lots, shopping malls and gas stations. Now, social media and the Internet are one of the biggest threats to our children. But why don’t parents address the Internet like a stranger?

Nothing is safe on social media. Information can go viral in a matter of minutes. A good example of how fast social media travels was the raw chicken incident at Princeton Middle School a few weeks ago. By the end of that day, I had seen the same photo at least 50 times posted by 50 different people. How you like your posts and photos to go viral? It could happen because a lot of users don’t check their privacy settings.

I will be honest. I don’t understand why oversharers post about breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or about what brand of toothpaste they like these days. But beyond the silliness, I am more concerned about the lack of safety. Post about vacation? Great, someone knows your home is empty. Talk about your significant other being out of town? Someone knows you are home alone. You might think a Facebook page is safe, but there are predators who know how to hack into accounts. They are looking for oversharers. Some are looking for children. If I am being honest, I might as well offer up my opinion that Facebook is not for children under the age of 13. Even teenagers should be held accountable for their social media activity as well. I don’t friend children on any of my personal accounts either.

Social media isn’t the only place people overshare. Just this week, my husband and I were driving to the store and pulled up behind a car with a stick figure family. I have never thought anything about the stick figures. But my husband brought it to my attention. A predator can learn a lot from the back of vehicle. He or she can learn how many kids are in the family. A boy stick figure playing baseball suggests after school sports. If there is only a female adult figure, someone knows it’s a single mom family. A school bumper sticker can lead a predator to a school too.

Am I overly cautious? Maybe. But then again, I work in the news business. Every day, I see numerous Amber alerts across the country. I read and hear about predators in small towns and big cities. The dark and twisted side of news is always a few clicks away. A lot of people avoid the news when it becomes hard to understand. Journalists don’t have that option.

Social media has become an important tool in the newsroom. Second to the scanner, it is another live feed of the happenings in our area. Twitter is another source of information. Oversharing might be amusing, but it can be dangerous.

There was a time I overshared on Facebook, gave too much information about my whereabouts and activities. One day, I learned a valuable lesson. I stopped posting much after that. I love social media for the ways it allows one to connect with friends and family. It can lead to great things — opportunities abound. So does danger. Be careful whom you trust on social media and don’t automatically think your posts are safe from those outside your friend list. It is OK to be the family without the stick figure decals and to not post about your big family vacation in June.

Jamie Null is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at jnull@bdtonline.com or on Twitter @BDTParsell.