Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Are we sharing too much online?

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
August 16, 2013 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Social media evolved from sharing trivial matters to more personal ones
  • Hannah Anderson answered personal questions about her abduction
  • NPR host Scott Simon tweeted from his dying mother's hospital room
  • Obeidallah: Sharing more is a good thing, if it helps bring comfort to those who suffer

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" which will be released in September. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Remember when social media websites were just about sharing fun things? I'm talking about the time when Facebook was essentially a place to post photos of you having a great time and the most serious event shared was when a person changed his or her status from "in a relationship" to "single."

But those days are gone. Social media has now become a place to share deeply personal and often horribly painful events in our lives. It has, in essence, become an online group therapy session where people reveal the details of dreadful events from their lives in the hopes it helps them cope and will attract support from others.

We saw it on display this week with 16-year-old Hannah Anderson, who was taken hostage by James DiMaggio for a week after he allegedly killed Hannah's mother and younger brother. Within days of being freed, Hannah went online to the website ask.fm and answered questions from the public about her ordeal. And she didn't just respond to a few questions, she fielded a long list of probing questions from "Why didn't you run?" to "Are you glad (DiMaggio is) dead?"

I noticed this evolution in the way people had begun to use social media last year, and at the time, I didn't like it. My concern was: Why would anyone share the intimate details of tragic events from their lives with people online, many of whom are strangers?

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

It really hit home this year when a friend posted on Facebook that he had been diagnosed with cancer. I was shocked, first by the news but second by the fact he announced his diagnosis on Facebook. Typically, this would be the type of news you would share only with family and close friends, and probably in a face-to-face conversation.

But reading the comments responding to his original posting -- and the comments to his subsequent posts about his treatment -- caused me to change my view on what was appropriate to share on social media. The amount of support he received on his Facebook page was astounding. He was touched by it, noting that the outpouring brought him comfort and inspired him to fight the disease even harder.

Rescuing Hannah Anderson

Many others are sharing the most heartwrenching events in their lives. In just the past few weeks, friends on Facebook or Twitter have posted information about the deaths of a parent or a grandparent.

And this week, I saw an even more candid sharing of information when a friend posted on Facebook that his brother in Egypt had been shot by the police there during the recent protests. He followed that up a few hours later with updates about surgery to save his brother's life. Finally, he posted a photo of his deceased brother from the morgue where they identified his body.

A few weeks ago, NPR host Scott Simon tweeted live updates from his dying mother's hospital room to his more than 1 million Twitter followers. Some said Simon was invading his mother's privacy while others labeled him as self-centered, focused more on himself than his dying mother. But like many others, I found it to be a moving tribute to his mother.

What sparked this trend to divulge information that had once been revealed only to family and close friends? There are a few reasons. First, it's clearly therapeutic for many. By sharing their painful experiences, it helps the person heal, and the show of support by others bolsters them.

Second, those who have been using social media for years on a daily basis have grown accustomed to sharing events and experiences from everyday life. We are now extending the scope of what we will share from our lives.

Finally, I believe there's a connection between a willingness to share private aspects of our lives and the reality TV show world in which we have been immersed for over a decade. On a nightly basis, we see people share their triumphs and tragedies, be it on shows like "Big Brother" or "The Real World" or more contrived ones like "Honey Boo Boo" or "Keeping up with the Kardashians." They have made it easier and more acceptable for us to do the same.

To me, the best thing about this new trend is that you get to control it. It's your choice whether to disclose deeply personal information. Those who find it unnerving or inappropriate can keep that information secret. But for the rest, social media may end up being a less expensive but helpful form of therapy.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT