#MuckedUp chat Tuesday: social media ethics and oversharing

Jan 20, 2014
#MuckedUp chat Tuesday: social media ethics and oversharing

When the culture is sharing every important life moment, and sometimes even every mundane thought, how do we determine what's oversharing? What, if anything, is now off limits? 

There seems to be an audience for everything, no matter how high or lowb culture, with the nichey world of the Internet proving that again and again by wildly popular estoeric communities on Reddit, legions of fans of self-published authors, and the general crevasse like rabbit hole that is social media. 

But still, is there an ethics to oversharing? And with an audience for everything, can anything actually be oversharing?

A recent case has brought to light this problem. Bill and Emma Keller are husband and wife journalists who both wrote op-eds in The New York Times and The Guardian on Lisa Bonchek Adams, a woman suffering from breast cancer. Last week Emma's piece was pulled not long after it was published, which caused another wave of viral jabs. Whether or not they were unsympathetic is up to you, the reader, but based on the backlash they've gotten online, the web has spoken. Reading both pieces, responses, and the maelstrom that ensued on Twitter, I think the Kellers likely intended to do the right thing, but perception and porous tone didn't help their case. And as is the nature of the Internet, they were swallowed hole by the politburo.

That notwithstanding, the issue in question raised by the Kellers, Emma in particular, is whether or not Adams' tweeting about her illness might be too much—too dark? In particular, why tweet about dying? Does anyone really want to read that?

Outrage blazed across the blogosphere last week, calling the couple every negative superlative in the book. For the sake of good grammar, and in the hopes of a more agreeable and printable insult, most folks pretty much called the Kellers "unsympathetic." And out of touch. And that they don't get social media. That's in part, because, as NPR’s Linda Holmes explains, Adams’ writing on Twitter is “not meant to announce its own heft as appearing on an op-ed page does. She didn’t ask for endorsement, she didn’t ask for sign-off, she didn’t ask for agreement. She’s just telling a story.”

While that may be true, it's not like Adams is writing privately in a journal. Her words are very much public, and with over 14,000 followers and a blog, social is a back-and-forth conversation as much as it is a personal recounting of her struggles. 

But, is it wrong? If someone, somewhere, sick, healthy, whatever, does gain some degree of solace from reading Adams', or anyone elses' personal posts about their daily challenges, isn't that then a positive? And because this is such a touche subject, are we all then maybe too quick to point the blame at the Kellers for not being as sympathetic as we would like them to be, even if they likely meant well? Or maybe we're just so far in the weeds here, we can't see our way out and both sides are right? Or...

Join me tomorrow, Tuesday, January 21 at 8 EST to have your say on the chat. See you then.


About the author

Recent Bylines @BW @NYTimes @WashingtonPost @BBC @CNTraveler @NewScientist @VanityFair @Climate

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