“Sharing is caring,” I have been told. An idea that has had a massive impact on how we now use the Internet. It is part of what is often referred to as sharing culture (participatory culture).

It is also related to what is known as Web 2.0. The term dates back to 1999. Not describing a new version of the web technologically, but how users of websites were given the ability to be part of content production.

Social media has increased the impact on how we use the Internet and how content is shared. We are now our own editors and publishers. The middleman has almost vanished.

It has given anyone with a connection to the Internet a voice. An ability to share their views on certain topics. Making it more difficult to censor speech — even though some countries still try.

Unfortunately that feeling of freedom has made us forget that, even if the Internet seems like a place where the participants make up the rules, laws still apply to what we do online.

When sitting at home, typing, seeing text emerge on the computer screen, we seem to be oblivious to how far that communique can reach.

It is as if with the inability to physically see those who read what we have written, we willingly ignore the fact that more than a few friends will read our communique — let alone share it with their friends.

It is said that if something is troubling you, sitting down and writing about it can be very cathartic. That of course does not mean it will be more cathartic by publishing it for the whole world to see — even though it might feel like it then and there.

Posting something online do not need to be nasty to land you in a whole heap of trouble. Even a poorly executed joke can cost you dearly. As Dana Snay discovered, it cost here dad, Patrick Snay, US$80,000.

If you want to share something about yourself, go ahead and do so if you are comfortable with the fact that it can be read by almost everyone on the Internet — and that what is made available online can be permanent.

However, when sharing something about someone else, it can become a bit murky.

The first thing to consider is to respect someone’s right to privacy. Ignoring that can lead to them being annoyed and even hurt, but push it too far you might land yourself in legal trouble.

Which leads to my second, and maybe most important, point. The risk of defaming someone.

FindLaw Australia (I urge you to read this if you spend a lot of time on social media) has written an article about how being too candid and vindictive online can land you in court for defamation.

They also list what constitutes as defamation within Australia:

  • State that someone is corrupt, dishonest, or disloyal
  • State that someone is suspected of committing, or alleged to have committed an illegal act
  • Ridiculing an individual
  • State that someone has a contagious disease, is suffering from insanity, or say something that is likely to cause the person to be shunned or avoided, even if there is no suggestion of bad character

Sharing might be caring, but it does not give you the right to be careless with what you share.

Not all of your dirty laundry need to be aired out in the public. That of course does not mean you should sit there in silence, as there are other ways to communicate with someone that might be able to lend you an ear.

How about next time you feel the need to talk to someone, you sit down and have a private conversation with them — be it face-to-face or via email.