Watch What You Say

The quotation “Publish and be Damned” originates from the retort of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington on being blackmailed by John Joseph Stockdale and Harriette Wilson. The advent of social media has made the quotation even more relevant.

The origins of the quote stems from a threat by Messrs Stockdale and Wilson to publish her memories and letters from the Duke. Letters may now be in decline, a massive headache for the Post Office but the dramatic and instantaneous nature of social media that have emerged in their place has left many ruining the day they hit the publish button.

I was taught by a sage to always leave a response, observation or retort in “a drawer overnight”. If you still agree with the content the next day then send – but guaranteed you will have changed your mind, reduced the content or want to modified the nature of the letter. Even chuck it in the bin! Amazing how overnight, any rage duly subsided, it proved him right on numerous occasions, even elicited an apology from one sender thanking me for not rising to issue! If he only knew.

The problem now is the instant access to potential damnation. The opportunity for trolls to vent demented and instant opinion is remarkable. The poison pen letter of old at least took a few days to arrive. But we all can be tempted to voice opinion; it’s so easy, I am writing this as an example.

Contrary to the modus operandi of social media who thrive on the good and bad commentary that it generates, fuelled by its immediacy, perhaps there should be an enforced delay in publication. A series of checks and balances to ensure the sender is sure about the content and completes a checklist to promote sensible content.

This process will still allow meaningful objectives and repossess to be published, but hopefully prevent the irrational and emotive opinions that could haunt the publisher for decades. How many people have had past beliefs re-emerge as damaging content even though their opinions have now mellowed, or changed direction.

The instantaneous publication craved by the social media owners to generate response and traffic could be replaced by a new theme – slow news with thoughtful and considered comment. Westminster could take the lead.

Alistair Owens

The meandering thoughts of someone with too much time on his hands. Tending to see the obscure and irrelevant in most events I have been forced to record this by family members as a means of diverting attention away from them. But I see their plan.

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