As we are all rightly spending more time at home during this crisis, it is perhaps natural that there will be an increase in internet usage. Whether that be watching videos, reading news or catching up with friends that you would had previously done at a lodge meeting or indeed over a cup of tea.

Perhaps you’re getting more engaged with social media, whereas previously you may not have touched it with a bargepole. The desire to keep in contact with friends and family being as strong as ever, this contact has now been driven towards online platforms and the telephone.

Except the “young’uns” now don’t really do phone calls do they?

Just like family may be contacting you on WhatsAPP, Zoom, Facebook etc, so now are Lodges & Chapters jumping on this group messaging bandwagon.

Suddenly, you get an invite, and you’re in a ‘room’ with 20 other names, or what look like anonymous phone numbers (as you may not have a particular member in your phone contacts), and such is the alacrity of the younger members’ typing that the sentence you were trying to reply to has long since shot off past the upper reaches of your screen. Remember, the younger members have been bashing out text on phones and screens since probably before they could actually write; it’s just part of their DNA.

“bing”, “bing”, “bing”, “bing” goes your phone as 20 people who can message faster with one hand than a 1960s typist get going. It can quickly become overwhelming and the urge to press the ‘quit group’ button is tempting. Don’t. Go to the 3 button menu and put the group on ‘mute’. The novelty of a new group quickly wears off and the traffic will quickly die down, allowing you to read the messages at your leisure and even spend time writing a well thought out response as a welcome alternative to their “LOLs” and “SMIBs”.

People who are new to WhatsAPP may be surprised to learn that you don’t only have to interact with that fast paced chat on your phone. If you have WhatsAPP on your phone, go to your computer and visit, and follow the simple instructions. Many people, including yours truly, much prefer typing on a QWERTY physical keyboard with text I can actually read than on a phone screen.

Even more scary than group chats is video calling. You have probably heard about a platform called Zoom in the news. Suddenly, it’s the latest thing. The trouble is, previously they were a small company selling their wares in a market swamped by video calling platforms. Skype, Microsoft Teams etc.

You may have also heard that Zoom has had some security issues. That’s true. Being small and off the radar prior to this crisis, as they have grown security professionals are looking into their security claims and unfortunately they have come up short on a few aspects. As a security professional myself, I would only say one thing to those reading this, don’t do anything important over Zoom. I shouldn’t have to reiterate this of course, but any “internet” chat we should all be mindful of our obligations. A Zoom meeting isn’t tyled. The prospect of joining a Zoom meeting looking up the noses of 20 fellow Brethren, who can’t angle their webcams correctly should scare you enough not to say anything private in any case.

Video Etiquette

1. Don’t all talk at once, video software focuses on who it thinks is leading the chat at any one time. You may notice this as a frame or highlight over their face, and then nobody can hear you.

2. Appreciate there is ‘lag’ on the internet. This is not some leisurely talk over a cup of tea in your front room. It can take up to 500ms (that’s half a second to normal people) for your words to be heard by the recipient. It can become an awkward melange of words as people cross over this small but noticeable delay. Younger people who use these platforms in their work life are more accustomed to such delays and automatically account for it.

3. Bear in mind that as you can see others, they can see you. They can also see what’s just behind you on the shelves and such like. I’m sure you have an extremely good reason why there are a pair of pink sparkly high heels easily to hand behind you. Explaining it may be a source of fun or embarrassment.

4. The nose. Don’t aim your webcam below you so it points up your nose. I’ll say it again; the nose.

Fake News

Scrolling through social media. It’s an unpoliced cacophony of rubbish, interspersed by postings from your friends and family, and adverts for whatever the social media overlords thinks you want or need to buy. How can you tell the real news from the fake news? Well, to put it bluntly, you can’t.

Your friends may share a guaranteed cure to Coronavirus in 10 easy steps perhaps with a picture of a doctor or nurse attached thus emphasising its legitimacy. A call to action: SHARE THIS TO SAVE LIVES or similar will usually accompany the message. Similar fake news items look real.

Fake news about celebrities is rife
Costa del Brum fake news

Why do people do this? No idea. Perhaps they think they can win the internet.

I have received many such messages from people I would consider to be highly intelligent and street wise to such ruses. As my late Grandfather used to say, individuals are clever, people are stupid (he wasn’t one for virtue signalling). This is not to denigrate the collective IQ of the British people, but sometimes you wonder what goes on in someone’s head when they think nobody is looking and they are doing no harm. Being in IT myself, this is depressingly noticeable across all age groups and is probably more prevalent at segments of the age spectrum you wouldn’t expect.

It’s down to you to ignore such news. Look at everything online with a sceptical eye. Like being back in Mr Gladstone’s history class, where is the evidence and sources?

This is a problem that the Government is trying to correct. In Normal Times this is just a mild irritant. In such times as these, it can have serious consequences. The Government is working actively with social media platforms to a) eradicate fake news, and b) “make official” such postings from the Government such as the daily press conferences.

Finally, step away from the computer. It can be easy in these times to read more online news as you’re bored at home. Being awash with such conflicting news stories and articles can’t be good for our collective mental health.

Social media is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, have a laugh at some nonsensical quiz someone has sent on, but be wary of ‘news’. Be sceptical.

Author: Alan Ogden

Provincial Communications Officer East Lancashire