Cyber Moment : Loose Tweets Sink Fleets?

Crew Happiness

We use social media to stay in touch with our friends and family, watch our children grow (sometimes from a distance) and follow the daily news.  It has changed communications from ship to shore in so many ways and rates extremely high on crew satisfaction surveys.  And, yes, there are pros and cons – both on a personal level and from an enterprise and security standpoint.

“Loose tweets sink fleets.”  – Tom Clancy Commander in Chief by Mark Greaney

We’ve all seen the crew members that have to be surgically separated from their cell phones.  Whether it is the texts that continue to flow throughout the workday or the Facebook posts of the funny cats, they seem incapable of putting their phones down.  There are segments of the industry that prohibit cell (mobile) phones due to the nature of the vessels’ work, such as tankers, but there are other segments that have not yet addressed the safety and productivity factors involved.

It’s almost undeniable that social media – whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat – brings you closer to friends and family.  But what of the additional stress that closeness might cause the mariner?  In days of old (pre-internet), one might not be involved in the crises at home due to the lengthy communication chain.  Only 20 years ago, a mariner might receive a letter a month and perhaps make a couple of phone calls home from a noisy pay phone on a dock.  This didn’t allow a lot of interaction on decisions – even critical ones.  Today, those same decisions – even minor ones can cause distraction on vessels.  We only have to refer back to the fatal collision between the towing vessel Caribbean Sea and the amphibious tour boat DUKW 34 to how serious these distractions might be.

But we have strayed from the title, a play on the “Loose lips sink ships” from World War II.  Looking at Social Media Oops below from the Norwegian Hull Club, we see an interesting discussion of the downfalls associated with posting ship and/or company information on social media.  Many news websites – particularly in niche markets such as shipping – monitor social media as a news source.  Do you necessarily want to be the one announcing to the world that your company has just had a major incident?  Or potentially worse, that you almost had one?  Think about the potential harm to the company’s reputation.  Face it, few of us on the water are the media spin-masters that a serious situation might require.

And then there is the operational security or OPSEC.  In the days of piracy, kidnappings and plain old theft, do we really want to tell everyone where we are, where we are going and what we are carrying?  Perhaps it would be a stretch to assume that Somali pirates are targeting your vessel based on the cargo, but perhaps it wouldn’t be so unreasonable to think that someone might be interested in that load of diesel you are moving through the Malacca Straits.  It’s important to not underestimate your adversary.  Not only could your Facebook post reveal security vulnerabilities, but then a simple search on a multitude of AIS-tracking websites can show your exact location.

The morale of the story?  Think before you post on social media.  There’s a lot of information out there that can be used for no good.  Do you really want to add to it?

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

Social Media Oops – Norwegian Hull Club

NTSB – Caribbean Sea / DUKW 34 Collision – June 2010

Seafarer’s Happiness Index January 2016 – Crewtoo

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