Imagine e-mailing a list of your husband’s faults to everyone you’ve ever met. Of course you wouldn’t. On Saturday afternoon that’s essentially what I did. I posted a Facebook update moaning about lazy men unhelpfully watching sport. I was cheered by the roar of agreement from girlfriends, and sniggered at the defensiveness of the boys. Inevitably, my husband was deeply unamused to be joshed on Monday morning by mutual friends. Think twice before posting those catty little asides about his love of chick-flicks to make on-line friends giggle. You could be causing more trouble than you realise.
It’s one thing choosing to share every detail of your own life on Facebook or Twitter, but if your loved ones prefer to keep everything private, it’s bound to create friction. This year, more than ever, we’re obsessed with on-line branding. What’s said about you will be read by friends, relatives, colleagues and bosses. More and more of us are getting in trouble for over-sharing.
“People don’t think about the consequences of posting the most trite of comments but they can be very intrusive,” says Antony Mayfield, author of Me And My Webshadow. Relationship therapist Simone Bienne agrees. “Posting private details about others is putting your own needs before your loved ones. It’s showing disrespect to your partner and over-stepping the boundaries of a healthy relationship.”
Susannah finds herself constantly responding to e-mails commenting on her husband’s updates. “My Blackberry beeped on Sunday afternoon from my old flat mate in New York asking whether I’d enjoyed lunch.” It transpired that her husband had tapped in “My missus is cooking a roast”. So far, so harmless, but her husband also does a running commentary on their lives together to the extent that he’ll post updates about her facial expressions during rows. Entertaining for his mates, deeply offensive to her.
“I’ve warned him that it’s got to stop. I’m incredibly private and loathe people knowing such trite details about our relationship,” she complains. “Half our rows are now about Facebook.”
Cordelia and her boyfriend actually split up over her Facebook faux pas. “My job took me to a different town. He read all the excited updates I posted, including – I’m ashamed to say – ones about how much more fun it was in the new place. He was furiously insulted and took it personally. We split up within weeks. I’m devastated and know that my over-sharing had a lot to do with it.”
Another contentious issue is on-line photographs. Research by Nikon reveals that over a third of British people feel they have no control over the photos posted of them on-line and 83% will try to get offensive pictures removed. 41.1% of men and 31.1% of women say they’d prefer not to share any pictures at all.
Helen’s boyfriend can’t wait to download his party pictures every Monday morning and always tags her in. “I look half cut in most of them and plain ugly in the rest’ she complains. ‘He thinks it’s fun, but I work in marketing, and all my colleagues see them.” Even worse, she once missed a friend’s birthday party through feigned illness. “That Monday I received a phone call from the furious birthday girl. She had seen pictures of me cavorting drunkenly in a different bar.”
The use of children’s picture is even more contentious. Emma posted what she thought were charming shots of her beach holiday with friends. Unfortunately her friend saw it differently. “When alerted to the shots of her children she went absolutely bonkers with rage,” says Emma. She didn’t want beach pictures of her children in the public domain. ‘I honestly hadn’t considered it to be inappropriate’ says Emma. “They were there for my family to admire, but my friend and I had an enormous argument and now barely speak.”
So what’s the solution? “Consult before sharing,” says Simone Bienne. Or simply don’t share in the first place. There will be fewer postings from the Smellie household. I may follow my friend Anna’s lead. When her Luddite husband finally joined Facebook she went through her account and removed all derisive mentions of him. “It left little on my home page, but at least I didn’t have to face his fury. Easier to delete the lot.”