Author: Lea Zweig, Psy.D. and Alexa Rabin, Psy.D.

Managing the Digital WorldThe concept of privacy has changed over the years with the widespread use of the Internet.  Our thoughts, relationships, pictures, and personal stories have become increasingly part of the public domain as we post information about ourselves on social media.  While the Internet allows people to connect and maintain relationships in a new unique way, there can be consequences to the type and amount of information people share. Over-exposing ourselves on the Internet can lead to feelings of vulnerability and judgment by others, which can exacerbate personal insecurities.

The Internet has also become a forum in which people may make comments that they might not feel comfortable saying in person.  For many, getting positive and validating comments online can feel motivating and encouraging.  This type of virtual interaction tends to have a positive effect on the emotions and well being of the individuals involved.  Some people enjoy engaging in respectful debates, receiving constructive criticism, and giving feedback to others online, which can lead to alternative positive outcomes such as education, growth, and understanding.

On the flip side, some people feel that they can say negative and hurtful things without repercussion, especially if they feel a sense of anonymity online.  These types of virtual interactions can have a profoundly negative effect on people.  As San Diego psychologists, we have observed multiple incidences in which such negative online interactions can lead to increased insecurity, depression, low self worth, anxiety, and other exacerbated psychological symptoms.  Freedom of speech is one of the founding principles in a democracy, but does that right give people permission to behave disrespectfully towards others?  When did we stop caring about how others might feel? Has the Internet created a virtual disregard for social etiquette, respect, or privacy?

If you feel compelled to post your life experiences on the Internet, or you want to share your private images or thoughts with someone that you care about, then consider the following tips first:

Do unto others

Be mindful of the comments you make online and the way you present yourself in the virtual world. Before offering a comment, consider whether you would be offended if the roles were reversed.  Remember the old rule: Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

Tasteful interactions

The virtual world offers a variety of forums for a healthy debate or constructive feedback in reaction to other people’s comments or postings.  Keep in mind that you can deliver your perspective with tact and respect, and without denigrating or putting down others.


What you put on the Internet will not disappear and you might have to live with the consequences indefinitely. Consider only posting images and comments that you would be comfortable with your parents, children, professors, and coworkers viewing.

Privacy settings

Most sites offer a variety of privacy settings so you can control who has access to your information.  Use these settings if you are uncomfortable with certain people viewing your information.

The future

Many companies screen people through Internet searches during their hiring process, so consider what information you have publicly displayed.  You may consider searching your name online every so often to know what personal information is publicly accessible.

Compromising photos

Do not send a compromising or inappropriate picture of yourself to another person, even if you trust them because you cannot guarantee where that picture goes and who eventually has access to it.  If you are under 18, sending a revealing picture to your boyfriend or girlfriend could be interpreted as making and distributing child pornography.  Parents and schools are encouraged to discuss the appropriate and inappropriate use of electronics and the Internet with middle school and high school children.  Increased education and awareness might limit the increasing amount of “sexting” between teenagers.

Privacy does not have the same meaning as it did before the Internet. It is possible to exert control over how much people know about you and how exposed you want to be to the public on social media, so be sure to make the choices that are most appropriate and comfortable for you. If you have experienced negative emotional effects associated with online interactions, reach out to a friend, therapist, or psychologist for extra support.