About a decade ago, while out with my then-3-year-old daughter, we stopped for ice cream in the late afternoon.
I knew this was a mistake. There was a chance my wife was cooking dinner. I knew that by getting ice cream there was likely no way my kid would eat anything for dinner that night.
So, I did what any rookie dad (and husband) would do in this situation. I told my daughter, “Don’t tell your mom we got ice cream. She might get mad.”
“Okay Daddy. Our secret,” was my daughter’s reply.
Whew, I thought. Crisis averted. Surely I could trust my daughter with this important information.
Alas, as soon as we walked in the door, my beautiful daughter threw me under the bus by announcing our little secret side trip to Handel’s Ice Cream.
Needless to say, I was in the doghouse for a few days after this. But I learned an important lesson: Don’t share secrets with people you can’t trust, including chatty 3-year-olds.
Ten years later, I’ve slightly adjusted this personal rule to include the sharing of personal information on Facebook and other social media platforms.
There. I did it. I compared trusting my toddler with a secret to sharing personal information on Facebook.
Is it really any different?
Don’t get me wrong. I occasionally share personal information on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms that I probably shouldn’t. I know the risks. But I also know that I’m exchanging data (money) for access to their platform (service).
As shocking is this may sound to some people, Facebook isn’t a free service.
Although critics have bellowed from social media soapboxes about the risks of sharing too much information, few actually listened to the warnings. Those are the people who did not receive the little “thanks for playing” message from Facebook last week.
That message, sent to some 80 million users, was Facebook’s attempt at an explanation and apology.
Thinking our personal information is somehow safe online is as laughable as telling a toddler to keep quiet. No one expects the kid will keep the secret. If they do, they probably shouldn’t be on social media.
I was one of the lucky Facebook suckers to receive the Cambridge Analytica message. Yes, I freely gave up personal data to play a game or complete some dumb quiz.
Boom. Credibility blown. Time to follow my own advice.
The bigger question is this: What will we do now that we know what we already knew? That’s a confusing question, but the answer is simple.
We can continue to share information we hope will be kept private by people we don’t know and on machines we’ll never see for a service we think is “free,” or we can treat Facebook and other platforms like toddlers who can’t be trusted to keep a secret.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.