We live in a new era. One of radical transparency. Wikileaks is exposing state secrets. Facebook is reconditioning us to share more of our selves, even if we don’t want to. Whether it’s making your buying preferences known to fuel smarter advertising delivery systems or leaking war strategies, the global democratization of information is forcing our hand — good or bad — to be one important thing: honest at all costs.

While I personally believe many of the secrets shared on Julian Assange’s Wikileaks to be appalling and detrimental to the greater good, he is serving as a conduit for supposed whistleblowers within organizations and governments. If (or dare I say when) he is stopped, 10 more like him will pop up. Wikileaks is the modern day equivalent of the Pilgrims setting sail for America. Those sharing the information (protesting the Catholic Church) are willing to pay ultimate sacrifices (freedom, perhaps death) for the right to share it (worship freely).

Facebook, while several hues below on the terror alert scale, is merely trying to convince us that giving them unfettered access to our habits, preferences and likes allows them to serve up smarter, more relevant advertising to us. The more relevant, the more we respond, the more effective their platform is, the more revenue they generate. They also think there’s no separation between people at work and people at play and that no one should have a problem being tagged in an image with someone else. You were there, weren’t you?

Granta Claus and his reindeer
My son Grant with a real reindeer.
He said, “That thing can’t fly, Daddy.”
Image by
Jason Falls via Flickr

While in theory the openness of our lives certainly can produce greater user experiences, connections and the like, radical transparency is very uncomfortable for many. Sure, many of the many are older generations who see no value in gathering information about people from someone other than the people in question, but why should we trust the Zuckerberg Zeitgeist when we don’t trust our governments, or even each other, to protect our privacy, our data and keep it holy?

The notion of radical transparency offers an interesting ethical dilemma. We acknowledge in our relationship with governments, companies and brands that we want complete honesty. Yet we hesitate to share of ourselves in similar ways.

Do you consider yourself an honest person?

Let’s put a different spin on what radical transparency means in today’s world. If we demand transparent honesty from our government, our churches and synagogues, our companies and brands and perhaps even each other, who will be the first to stop lying to our children about Santa Claus?

My son’s kindergarten class wrote letters to Santa last week. The teachers wrote responses and mailed them out shortly after. Since my son attends a private, Catholic school which is partially administered and governed by the Archdiocese, I can connect enough dots to offer the opinion that the Catholic Church is complicit in the lie of the commercialized version of Christmas.

And for the record, my son’s class wrote letters to Santa Claus, not St. Nicholas. The patron saint of Russia was said to leave coins in the shoes of people who left them by their door and was an inspiration for the modern manifestation of Santa Claus, but the Catholic adoration of St. Nicholas is aimed at a person far different that what you think of as St. Nick.

As I consider the notion of radical transparency and what its implications are on our world, I worry that we aren’t seeing the contradictions in all of us.

Companies breach our trust and we don’t buy their products. Our government breaches our trust and we elect new leaders. Software breaches our trust and we stop using it.

What happens when our children treat us that way?

My hope on the eve of this holiday, regardless of whether you practice it or not, is that we can come to terms with the fact that sometimes, misinformation or even non-information is not bad. Or that we can declare it to be such and truly free ourselves from the binds of untruth.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Scrogge

    Scrooge lives. It will be 5 generations from now and your hapless effort to stop telling kids about santa …will be a FAIL

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Funny. There's no “effort.” Just food for thought.

  • http://twitter.com/drbret Bret L Simmons

    Was talking about Santa to my 10 yr old son and 16 yr old daughter just last night. We were not popular parents because while we celebrate Christmas, we always told our kids the truth about Santa. I personally could never justify lying to my kids. My son thinks some of his friends still don't know that truth. We all got a big laugh from that. Thanks! Bret

  • Nita

    Life is full of contradictions and out and out lies. And then there's myth. Myth lives because it carries an inner truth. Merry Christmas to you. Nita http://www.TodaysGrowthConsult

  • http://mom-101.com Mom101

    I think it's a little sad that I keep seeing the Santa debate framed as lies versus truth.

    It's fantasy versus reality. Or better: Fantasy versus a prematurely necessary reality.

    I'm delighted to allow my young children some fantasy in their lives; whether in the form of Santa, fairies, dragons, pirates, or the belief that Elmo really does talk back to them from the TV.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Fair point. Thanks for the perspective.

  • http://twitter.com/E_MORALES_ Eddie

    “…that sometimes, misinformation or even non-information is not bad”. I think the problem with this is how does an individual know when this “sometime” is. I think its best to know the truth about as much as we can that way we may be less inclined to make bad decisions because we let misinformation and what ever comfort it provides lead us down the wrong path.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Fair point, but in the case of knowing the location of troops or what Hilary

      Clinton thinks about the Sultan of Oman … do we, the American public,

      really need to know this? Do we need to know that the great Facebook

      promotion that company we like is doing was originally intended to be a

      profit-first tactic that just turned out to look organic and wholesome?

      Knowing that information may change our opinion of things (or in the case of

      troop locations, may put lives in danger) but not knowing any of it doesn't

      hurt us.

      It's not definitive information needed to make personal decisions I'm

      talking about. It's just superfluous data that if we don't know it, in the

      end, means nothing.

      Fair?

      • Susan Gosselin

        Clearly we have to establish what needs to be transparent, and what needs to be opaque in our society. As far as I'm concerned, matters of national security, information that passes through diplomatic channels, and proprietary business information qualifies. We will have to establish international laws. It's the only way.

      • http://twitter.com/E_MORALES_ Eddie

        Definitely fair! However, in the case of WMDs in Iraq and the reason for going to war in that country we were misinformed costing our country countless soldiers, countless innocent lives, and obscene amounts of money. I think it would have been fair for us to have known the truth.

        I agree, I don't think the American public needs to know location of troops or what Hilary thinks about an Arab leader, because you're right it is just superfluous data we can't do anything with. However, I think we do need to know if we are being misinformed on major decisions made by our leaders because as you can see we're still in Iraq and the terror threat still feels the same as it did in 2001. That's a lot of lives lost and a lot of money spent. I apologize for steering this in to a political conversation.

        I guess you're right, the keyword is “sometimes”. The problem is knowing when to draw the line.

  • Susan Gosselin

    Jason–
    Oh for Pete's Sake! Santa is not worthy of such existential angst. It doesn't mean we aren't walking our ethical talk.

    Look. The main reason for Santa Claus is this…if we tell preschool children that we are getting them gifts for Christmas…make out a list…there will be the biggest case of holiday gimmes you've ever seen. Then they will start comparing…why did your family give more and mine didn't, etc. Now I'm not going to say that Santa is a completely fair, just and frankly, logical tradition. But, it does get the point across to kids that they should be good. And they should believe in magic. And if they have a fit over something they did or didn't get…you can shift blame for a couple years. By the time they are old enough to understand that Santa isn't real, they are also old enough to understand the complexities of the holiday, about how much Mom and Dad can afford to give them, and that you should be thankful and appreciative to the proper authorities.

    Just be glad we don't do it like the Europeans. I went on a trip to Germany recently. The CEO of a big company there was relating a story from his childhood. On Christmas Eve, families would hire Santa to come in. Kids would be expected to perform for him… a song, or a little poem. He said he was about four…his family stood him up on the top of their dining room table…and he was so overwhelmed with Santa that he froze in fear and couldn't recite his poem. In Germany, Santa has a henchman that deals with the bad children…here's a rundown http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C…. So his henchman threw this kid in a burlap sack and kidnapped him for a few minutes…running through the neighborhood with him, making him think he might not come back. To this day this middle aged man hates Santa, and many Germans sitting around the table felt the same way. Parents regularly threaten kids there that if they aren't good they'll be “put in the sack.”

    This was our first Christmas without Santa. The kids were ready for it. But they still appreciate him as the symbol of the magic of giving. Enjoy it while you can.

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