Posted by: David Harley | June 15, 2011

Careless Talk Still Costs Lives

When I was still at school in the UK, I bought a collection of propaganda poster cartoons by Fougasse, the pen-name of Kenneth Cyril Bird. (Unfortunately, it looks as if, like so many books, I parted with it during one of my many changes of address since the 1960s.)

It included many of the Careless Talk Costs Lives series of propaganda cartoons from World War II – of which there are a few examples here – with images showing Hitler et al overhearing gossip that could provide useful wartime intelligence.

The campaign was highly rated at the time – in fact, Bird was awarded the CBE for his contributions to the war effort – and has clearly resonated down the years. The Ministry of Defence has, it appears, picked up not only the slogan but (to some extent) the spirit of the Fougasse cartoons for a public information video that warns that indiscreet use of social media may result in the leakage of critical information relating to today’s military operations.

Well, you may or may not care about the activities of the British armed forces, but the underlying message doesn’t only apply to them. The video shows the mother of a British airman having a cosy cup of tea with a terrorist, having shared information about her son’s whereabouts and activities on Facebook.

You might consider that a little far-fetched, but if so, I guess you wouldn’t believe that the wife of the head of MI6 would post copious personal information on Facebook either.

The fact is, that terrorists and spies aren’t the only people you need to worry about: anyone from Burglar Bill to Journalist Joe and your boss could have direct or indirect access to what you’re saying on Facebook or Twitter about yourself and your friends and relations. There’s a famous cartoon by Peter Steiner that says “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” And to some extent, that’s still true: you can be very anonymous/pseudonymous online, for whatever reason. But social media has chipped away at that: you may think you have nothing to hide, but the erosion of privacy is making it ever easier for others to glean information (and sometimes misinformation) about you, for legitimate or illegitimate reasons.

On Facebook, it can be all too easy to find out that you’re a dog.

Small Blue-Green World

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