The social media sphere is like an open stage. You are the performer, your own director. Your friends, followers and the public, the audience.
Is there a limitation to what you can share with them? Is there a term like oversharing? And what danger lurks in sharing whatever you deem suitable in your various social media platforms?
At an age where people could follow you for evil purposes, and where potential employers could be part of your audience, how do you remain active online while still honouring the boundary between what is public and what is private?
Name: Paul Gitagia
Age: 25 years
Graphic designer & Videographer
For a long time, Paul was not shy about sharing anything he wanted to on social media, save for explicit content. His most preferred platform was Facebook, which he updated regularly.
However, two months ago, he made a radical decision. He deleted all his personal information - photos and posts about his life and family.
“I realised that posting too much of myself on social media was akin to putting up my picture on a billboard. Anybody could see what I share while those who were unable to view my posts could still get the information from my friends,” he explains.
Another factor that fueled his decision to clean up his social media was the realisation that when he posted about his relationship or girlfriend, his friends on social media wanted to be part of his relationship.
“There was a time when my girlfriend and I were going through a rough patch, and we were not in good terms. As a result, I stopped posting about us as often as I did. Whenever I met those who knew us offline, they would want to know how we were fairing – my relationship had become public,” he says.
A third reason prompted this decision to clean up his social media image: he got a job as a social media executive for a local parastatal.
“There is a particular image of myself that I aspire my employer’s clients to relate with, and the last thing I wanted was clients associating me to a crazy meme I posted or a post I made about my relationship.”
His posts, which have since decreased in number, are solely about his job.
Age: 23 years
Student& Motivational Speaker
To keep his followers and friends entertained, Jeremiah, popularly known by his friends as ‘Remy Lucious’, would regularly posted about where he was hanging out, eating and the people he was socialising with.
“I was in my early twenties then, and took great pleasure in the feedback and likes my posts would get. For some reason, I also felt obligated to share what was going on around me with my followers,” he explains.
It however got to a point where he found himself relying on the feedback he got from his followers on social media. It is then that he decided never to share about himself, his achievements or family on any of his social media pages.
“Looking back, I shared too much about myself to an audience that was probably not even interested,” he comments.
Jeremiah, who is studying economics and sociology at the University of Nairobi, now only posts motivational posts.
“I am a motivational speaker, and mostly speak to students in secondary school on various issues such as personal development. By sharing such content with my friends on Facebook, my most preferred platform, I am able to connect with them without having to share too much about my life,” he explains.
In 2017, during the general election period, Margaret posted what she thought was a funny photo of herself on Facebook, sneering.
Her intention had been to lighten the charged political mood in her own small way. A few days later, the photo started trending on various social media platforms.
Her friends on Facebook had lifted the photo from her timeline and used it to create political memes, some funny, others offensive.
“I got several messages on my inbox from people who wanted to know whether I was the one that had created the memes while friends kept tagging me the offensive posts. It got to a point where I was forced to put up a disclaimer on my page disassociating myself from the memes,” she recounts. Margaret shares whatever she deems fit on her platforms, mostly Facebook, where she markets her business. She also posts on behalf of friends who want to share what they are going through but want to remain anonymous.
“I am a businesswoman, I sell clothes, and when my posts go viral, it’s a win for me because people will want to know more about me, and when they visit my timeline, they get to see what I sell - I see it as a clever marketing gimmick.”
She is however cautious about revealing information such as where her children go to school or where she lives. “Some of my friends cautioned me against sharing photos of my children. I only post their photos during celebrations such as birthdays, and often, I use old photos of them,” she says.
While she acknowledges that one can be targeted due to what they share on social media, she says that the benefits of social media outweigh the disadvantages.
Student & UNICEF Kenya Youth Advocate
Happiness wears many hats. She is a journalism and communication student, an actress, MC and
UNICEF Kenya Youth Advocate.
With a following of more than 15,000 on Instagram, she is a regular poster. Even then, there are many details about her life that do not make it to that platform.
“I don’t share information about my family. I don’t think it would be fair if I did because my social media platforms are personal, hence it only makes sense to post about me,” she explains.
She is also careful not to share her location in real time when she travels or when she is emceeing due to security reasons.
“I have heard and read stories about individuals who got kidnapped, carjacked or robbed after sharing intimate information online.”
For someone who is eager to join the corporate world after graduating from Multimedia University, where she is studying she is also cautious about the content she shares online.
“While in secondary school, one of our teachers told us that the internet doesn’t forget, caution that has stayed in my mind since. According to my former teachers, there are posts that I might make now, forget about them, only for them to resurface later and bite me. I would be disappointed with myself if I missed an opportunity such as a job offer purely because of thoughtless social media posts,” she notes.
While she posts photos and videos taking part in her various interests, she is careful not to share about her future plans or itinerary for the day.
“That would be oversharing. I instead talk about past events - I am building my brand and I consider sharing selected content a good strategy to market my services and abilities. Occasionally, I share inspirational quotes and videos.”
Tabitha Mwangi is a Research Associate, Terrorism, Center for International Security Affairs (CISA)
“People are targeted for three main reasons: who they are, what they have and what they know.
In 2016, Kim Kardashian, the American socialite, was robbed off expensive jewelry while in Paris after she shared photos of herself wearing the jewelry.
The less information you share about your family, friends and business associates, the safer everyone is. But it is not just young people that are guilty of oversharing, parents do it too. They liberally share information - photos and videos - of their children on social media platforms, which violates their right to privacy, provides fodder for possible future bullying, and makes them vulnerable to kidnapping, blackmail and even murder. Secondly, many photos shared on social media expose possessions in offices or homes, so robbers would know exactly where to get your valued assets.
Depending on one’s position at work, whether in government or the private sector, oversharing can make you a target for competition. Competitors can target you to collect valuable intelligence important for planning a kidnapping, hacking or assassination.
Social media dangers include social engineering, where attackers get access to personal information available on social media platforms to get insider information after establishing trust, to targeted phishing attacks that leave users vulnerable to hackers, exposure to malware and spam.
Many young people have been drawn to terrorism ideologies after they were groomed online by recruiters based on the information that they shared online.
The Islamic State and Al Qaeda use the various social media platforms to spread their propaganda, recruit and train recruiters who they assign to execute terrorist attacks.
How to stay safe on social media
Resist the urge and temptation to show off what you own or the gifts that make you happy since these can give ideas to sinister people on how to get to you.
Confidential information that should not be shared includes passwords, date of birth, school/place of work, where you live, shops you frequent, family members and vehicle number plates.
Do not share your commute routes or location because these make you vulnerable to kidnapping, robbery or targeted killings. Also, do not accept friend requests or direct messages from people you do not know because they can use you as a link to your family, friends or business associates.
Restrict who has access to the information you share online and what people close to you shouldn’t share online. Corporates should have clear policies on what employees can or cannot share on social media. *Disable geotagging functions on your devices and online profile.
On all your social media platforms, use strong and unique passwords to prevent hackers from easily accessing your personal information. Also change them frequently and do not share sensitive information such as bank account details and travel itinerary online.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi connections to connect to the internet since there can be bugs that access data from your devices and can be shared without your consent.
Enable multi-factor authentication on all your devices so that in case your devices get lost, others will not be able to access your phone and share information stored in them.
Disable your microphone and webcams from your devices lest they are used to spy on you.
Keep yourself abreast of methods and tactics used by cyber criminals to prey on people online and offline.
So, what exactly is oversharing? We had a chat with Isaac Maweu, a counseling psychologist, corporate trainer and CEO of Greatness Assured Consultancy.
“I would describe it as consistently sharing intimate details about yourself and what you are up to and also sharing details that you wouldn't probably talk about in the presence of family, friends or colleagues. Not every detail about your life needs to be out there.
Most individuals who share such intimate details are driven by ego. Most are seeking gratification, recognition and fame. When you make a post and it triggers a conversation, trends or gets many likes, you will probably be tempted to keep posting. This partly explains why many young people are addicted to social media. Note that it is not possible to divorce yourself from your posts, which can tell a lot about your personality and values. Because you have the freedom to post anything you deem fit, some misuse that power.
Most recruiters I have interacted with use your social platforms as one of the determining factors of whether to hire you or not, so it is important to be careful what you put up in this space.
There are those who consider social media platforms to be their safe place. A place to share their feelings, somewhere they can get a listening ear.
Unfortunately, not everyone on social media is sympathetic or well-meaning, so you might get trolled.
Once you post on social media, you no longer have control over your post.
However great the inclination is, refrain from broadcasting your personal life on social media, especially your relationship, which you might just end up ruining.
But it is not just relationships that suffer, jobs too are put in jeopardy, especially those that call for privacy and confidentiality.
Some professionals such as medics, counsellors and disciplined forces, are guided by social media policies which determine what they share or not.
As a counsellor, for instance, if I shared about my patients online, I would be liable for disciplinary and legal action.