The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Blurred between online and reality: Oversharing may be acceptable online, but causes discomfort in the classroom

4 min read
Two students closely debate on a topic.

A rise in platforms such as YikYak have gained popularity due to its approach to anonymity. Abbey Magnet | The Weekly Ringer


Staff Writer

We are in the age of opinions; the online world has opened countless opportunities for us to give our opinion on anything and everything we choose—with little to no consequences for the average individual. Celebrities and popular influencers are held to a slightly higher level of accountability due to the scrutiny of the public eye, but “cancel culture” rarely applies to your average student or adult.  

This constant online exchange is one reason that people tend to overshare in person, as the line between online and in-person etiquette starts to blur and people have a harder time adhering to social norms in the “real world.” However, it is important that we re-learn these notions of what topics are appropriate to discuss and in which context, as some discussions pertain to sensitive issues that could make others upset or uncomfortable. 

The intimacy of the online world has created areas where stories can be told in “safe” and somewhat anonymous places, giving rise to movements such as #MeToo in which thousands of women shared their experiences with sexual violence and destigmatized sexual assault nationwide. 

However, sharing intimate and vulnerable personal information is not all positive, as it can open individuals up to harsh critique and hate. Additionally, with trends circulating online, we can expect to see topics like sexual assault in content related to the #MeToo movement.

On social media, we are prepared for such discourse, as sharing detailed and personal information is commonplace, but outside of such, there is a different expectation for how much we should share—or at least there used to be. 

When sharing this type of information occurs in excess online, some individuals bring the same approach to their public, in-person lives, and raising such topics of discussion is unfit for certain types of conversation and settings.

Nyla Burton, a staff writer for The Verge, wrote in a recent article, “If the whole point is to share something, how should we think about the choice of what to share and what not to share?”

Stephanie Coleman, the program manager and counselor at the Rappahannock Counsel Against Sexual Assault, attributes social media, the need to be heard and an acquired numbness to be some reasons why oversharing occurs on a daily basis. 

“I feel like it comes in part from the need to be heard, and feeling like nobody’s really listening,” said Coleman. “Social media is also a big part of it; people are so used to putting their entire life out there in 30-second blips or other things that they’ve become numb to oversharing. They can’t pick up on social cues anymore because we live in a world of DM’s and instant messaging, so once they meet in person, they aren’t picking up on the fact that it’s too much.” 

The amount that we share online under the guise of being anonymous, as well as the normalcy of oversharing online, has seeped into reality. For example, on YikYak—a popular media site that establishes anonymous community forums for those in a common population, such as universities—students post about anything, from campus crushes and announcements about campus events to their mental health struggles and vendettas against people on campus. 

It is here that we see a stark difference between privacy norms online versus in person. As a result of their enmeshment, oversharing in public can elicit strong feelings of discomfort because it breaks our expectations of how much someone should share and in what context.

These changes are not just occurring on a nationwide scale; UMW students and faculty alike have noticed an uptake in the amount and type of information that students share in class. 

Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences Dave Kolar has noticed a shift in the types of interactions that occur in the classroom. 

“Students are definitely sharing more about themselves in the classroom and in office hours than they have in the past. This is particularly the case with mental health issues,” he said. “At one level, it is great that there is less stigma around mental health issues so students feel more comfortable sharing. But it is important to not overshare, particularly in the classroom.” 

There are several reasons why students should not overshare in public spaces like the classrooms, but it often boils down to an issue of comfort. 

“There are times when I can see other students in the class feeling uncomfortable with the amount of sharing someone is doing. When that happens I will make sure to talk with the student outside of the class about what and how much is appropriate to share and things usually work out well,” said Kolar. 

Sophomore psychology major Isa Barrón described a situation that occurred in a class earlier in the semester where a student overshared in class and it made both students and faculty uncomfortable. 

“A student disclosed that their whole family dealt hard drugs and that they personally did as well,” said Barrón. “The teacher looked uncomfortable and seemed to find it difficult to make a smooth transition between that comment and the topic of discussion.” 

In an article for the Wabash Center, an online resource for college professors worldwide, Dr. Nancy Lynne Westfield described her personal thoughts about the dynamic she tries to create in her classrooms. 

According to Westfield, “Too much shared personal information is never a way to strengthen the dynamics of a classroom discussion, lesson plan, or teaching relationship…I tell students that we do NOT have a contract of confidentiality in our discussions and to consider anything said in this space as shareable with the world.”

For the sake of the professor’s and students’ comfort, professors should establish boundaries like this in their classes so that everyone can identify the standards of what is appropriate in-class discussion material versus private information that should be reserved for their friends and family.