Be like Dad and keep Mum

6 November 2015
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‘Be like Dad and keep Mum’. Remember that poster or at least do you remember your parents or grandparents mentioning those well-worn phrases? Or how about ‘Loose Lips Sinks Ships?’

That phrase was originally on posters during the war years reminding people to beware of speaking about anything concerning national security issue that could be used by the enemy. They were broadcast and published by the Ministry of Information in the UK, which eventually turned into the Central Office of Information which was itself, abolished just a few years ago.

To my parent’s generation those phrases imbued a sense of responsibility and caution about sharing anything which could be construed as aiding and assisting the enemy.

But that sense of being careful about what we say, which carried on well into the 1970s and 80s, has, with the advent of social media been turned on its head.

Very little is now reserved for offline discussions. But have we gone too far with our dissemination of information and our rapidity in sharing images?

Two young police officers have recently been suspended for making ‘inappropriate’ comments on social media after working at the site of the Shoreham air crash where 11 people died on a busy road following a stunt that went wrong involving a vintage aircraft. Various social media platforms were full of grim images in the hours following the incident. We might have called their banter ‘gallows humour’ in the past. But when it was shared globally on twitter, the joke fell flat.

At scenes of serious incidents, the emergency services now have to caution members of the public not to take photographs of the dead and dying on their cellphones as families may not have been informed by the time such images hit cyberspace. Facebook itself was recently in a quandary over the publication of photographs of a beheading which had already been shared many times.

In Tunisia, a British politician was photographed taking a selfie at a Tunisian beach where 38, mostly British tourists, were gunned down by a lone terrorist earlier this year. Was that in good taste?

Social media has many great uses. It is an excellent means to gain traction for a story or cause; raise important issues, promote products, support important initiatives and poke fun at politicians. In our case it is the early dissemination of correct information to aid the shipowner or shipmanager who we may represent in the teeth of an aggressive media pack.

Having information in real time is extremely useful and can sometimes literally mean the difference between life and death.

But like those grim images shown to me without warning on my device, do I really need to download an app to my phone that can follow drones as they survey the sky and offer real-time images in enemy territory? Do such applications need to be available to the public? Are we fairly considering the ethics of social media and setting appropriate boundaries between the public and private spheres?

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the WWII phrase and consider that some information should just remain offline both for reasons of security, protection or just good taste? Or have we become so accustomed to instant information and over-sharing across a multiplicity of social media platforms (200 and counting) that we want information, images and news regardless of what long term risks are involved?

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