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Facebook And Relationships: Is There A Dark Side To Social Media Network Overshare?

Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the Founder of Boston-Based LBS consulting firm Location Based Strategy, LLC. As a Sociology and Communications Major, Wilson has long been interested in forces that drive changes in human interaction and communication. He can be reached at [email protected].


Every so often a disruptive innovation take root so rapidly that negative sociological impacts are masked by the euphoria of the initial rush to acceptance.

Facebook has over 500 Million users and the average active user spends 55 minutes per day checking or updating their newsfeed. If we assume all users are “active”, this amounts to (the equivalent of) an incredible 52,279 YEARS per day spent on Facebook.

There is no doubt that Facebook has reconnected old friends, served as an easy bridge for quick communication, and allowed people to share their business and personal lives in a new and exciting ways. But is there a societal downside to this torrent of  flippant, instantaneous, and often narcissistic overshare?  Aside from the security and privacy implications of sharing inappropriate details of location or age or sexuality, there is another element that I am not sure has been explored fully.

Is Facebook causing divorce? Increasing evidence suggests that easy access to out-of-context personal details and feelings from others can become a distraction and temptation that fuels the exploration of unconstructive possibilities by the recipient. Can quickly and easily reconnecting with people from one’s past cause the reawakening of feelings that are out of context and likely irrelevant, yet real and powerful enough to cause marital disruption?

Clearly, Facebook does not cause divorce, as there are any manner of ways to end a marriage, if one is so inclined. But this new form of communication is clearly having some effect on relationships, as it opens a door to the past instantly and fuels communication between people in a radically new way.

While data is as scant as Facebook is new, an article from Australia digs into the issue, stating that, “British divorce firm Divorce-Online said Facebook was cited in one-fifth of the divorce petitions it processed last year…Australian Family Relationships Clearing House manager Elly Robinson said online behavior was causing friction in households. “Relationships develop more quickly online because inhibitions are lowered, it’s easy to exchange information, people are online 24/7, there’s an (endless) amount of people you can link up with who are there for the same reason, real life pressures fade away … it’s a bit of a fantasy world,” she said.

CNET blogger Chris Matyszczyk has written several posts about this subject and, in one, explores the notion of Facebook fueling a sort of addictive jealousy feedback loop, whereby potentially damaging communication is happened upon by one partner, causing a disruptive, endless loop of distrust to form, with Facebook at the center of this storm of discontent.

Obviously, a phone call or an email or letter can accomplish a reconnection to an old flame, if one is so inclined. But Facebook allows this curiosity about the past, and the temptation to explore it, to become actionable in a matter of seconds. Like a magic, instantaneous worldwide time machine Rolodex, complete with photos and (often) intimate details, Facebook fosters connections and the sharing of thoughts and feelings that are perhaps detrimental to one’s current situation, or at least out of context.

The tendency to peek into the lives of others that Facebook  fosters is by-design and how Facebook’s business model works. The more “what’s on your mind” thoughts and details shared and read, the more pages viewed, the more ads displayed, the more money Facebook makes ($800 Million annually, at last count). And this is largely positive and benign. But this also can lead to the turning over of emotional rocks from the past, that are sometimes best left undisturbed. People often do not think about how their personally charged thoughts and feelings will affect others, when broadcast to a wide audience, with a range of perspectives and loyalties.

Living in the moment, being present, and looking ahead is not something Americans are particularly good at. We tend to yearn for “days gone by” and wish we had done things differently. We devour nostalgia with an insatiable appetite for “a simpler time”. Classic Coke, The Wonder Years, Happy Days, Back To The Future, That 70′s Show…the list goes on and on. Being thoughtful and aware and mindful is very important and this is especially true when communicating with others.

Facebook, on the other hand, tends to encourage flip, often thoughtless interaction and communication that sometimes causes unforeseen harm. A letter can be torn up. A private conversation held in-trust can be kept secret. A harsh exchange can be apologized for and forgotten about. But a Facebook post is different. It can be forwarded and copied and viewed without limit. A flip curiosity about “what might have been” or a personal complaint from the moment, can become locked in and temporary feelings pushed out to others without context are easily mistaken for deeper sentiments.

Those who are divorced can share their personal joy and newfound “freedom” with trusted friends who might be in the throes of a difficult period of their marriage. This overshare of thoughts, photos, and “advice” from those who have not succeeded with the hard work required to keep a marriage intact is often counter-productive and can even be purposefully disruptive.

For a frightening look at just how public Facebook is, try typing the search term (in quotes) “don’t tell anyone” into the  Openbook site. This is a live searchable feed of real Facebook posts, created to demonstrate the perils of Facebook overshare.

Facebook is a powerful new social networking took with many benefits. Marriage is not always easy. Both of these statements are true. But all who use Facebook should be mindful of the need to be sensitive to others and use extra care when communicating to your network while temporarily blinded by emotion or distress.


Wilson Kerr (@WLLK) is the Founder of Boston-Based LBS consulting firm Location Based Strategy, LLC. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Wilson has 11+ years experience in the Mobile and Location Based Services (LBS) space. Recently, he became Director Of Business Development and Sales for Unbound Commerce, a Boston-based mobile commerce solution provider. He has deep expertise in the areas of mobile commerce, social media, branded location integration, branded content licensing, and is knowledgeable in a broad range of navigation technologies. Wilson has worked with top tier brands, content providers, device manufacturers, and application developers, including Nokia, Unbound Commerce, Tele Atlas/TomTom, The Travel Channel, Langenscheidt Publishing, Intellistry, Parking In Motion, GPS-POI-US, and others. Wilson is a blogger on all things location-based, edits the LBS topic page on Ulitzer, teaches a Social Media 101 class, and has served as a panelist and speaker at Mobile LBS conferences and networking events. Wilson has held positions in Business Development, Sales/Marketing, and Digital Licensing at The North Face, Outdoor Intelligence, Fishing Hot Spots Maps, Tele Atlas North America/TomTom and, most-recently, Unbound Commerce. Wilson left Tele Atlas to start Location Based Strategy, LLC in 2007. Company Website: Twitter: @WLLK