Oversharing was once a social media bogeyman. But as social networks have demanded more and more information from us, we feed them with ever-deeper access to the most intimate details of our lives — photos of our families and homes, say, or joking-not-joking memes about trauma and depression — in exchange for the nearly-random validation of likes and shares. Online oversharing, according to a new paper by a trio of researchers in South Korea, may be a result of a type of exhaustion and cynicism called “privacy fatigue.” It’s the situation social networks like Facebook have probably dreamed of since their inception.
The authors argue that the difficulty of protecting personal data on social networks, not to mention repeated consumer data breaches, have resulted in a burnout that makes the loss of digital privacy seem inevitable. And when they give up, the researchers found that people who suffer from privacy fatigue — one tell: “I feel emotionally drained from dealing with privacy issues in an online environment” — are more likely to spread personal information on the web and less likely to take measures to protect it.
Social media can feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy. A commentary published this week in Nature argued that while most teens have a positive relationship with technology, kids from lower income families tend to spend more time than their affluent peers interacting with screens — and that problems on social media often spilled over into fights and trouble offline.
Social media brands have no incentive to discourage sharing and contribute to the malaise. Facebook, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg once declared that privacy was no longer a “social norm,” has repeatedly overhauled its baroque privacy settings, leading many users to not understand who can see their content. Twitter has repeatedly changed course on how its blocking functionality works. After a few rounds, it doesn’t really matter how the system actually works if users have started to give up completely.
Now that we are already down this path, it’s worth asking how this cynicism about privacy or the lack interest in protecting personal views affects how people spread opinions or information they may even know not to be true. All of these things together seem like they could create a vicious feedback cycle. We know they would, because they already have.