Linguistic Responsibility and Security

Communication -- technologically and physically -- often is the gating issue when it comes to making us more secure


 Morgan tells of the time in 2007, where he was responsible for “securing” polling sites for the Iraqi national elections. He began work at the Area of Responsibility (AOR), two weeks prior to the election. The mission was to make the polling site, “more secure” for the nationals. The soldiers began assessing potential threats and security vulnerabilities. Roving patrols and counter sniper positions were established.

While conceding the fact that no precaution would prevent enemy attacks on their position, the security plan called for Sneed’s force to minimize the threat and optimize their response. For Sneed, it was a given that combat offered no safe situations, he also realized there were varying degrees of being safe. Now as a student of social psychology, that realization has been reinforced. If he had allowed his men to resign themselves to worst-case scenarios, he knew complacency would set in with potentially fatal consequences. At each team meeting Morgan communicated to his troops in a way that helped them understand not only about being more secure but being smarter about their own security.

In the security solutions arena, very few security providers attempt to claim that any one product or even a combination of products will make you safe. Vendors have learned that it is counterproductive if potential users are misled about technology capabilities. Technology provider can’t afford to deal in absolutes, so using the language of safer and less safe can help them avoid the misrepresentation of what their products really can do for the end user.

The assumption is that language matters, and this holds especially true in the security industry. 

The commitment should be to use valid or appropriate language responsibly, with the understanding that language validity also is a continuous variable. While the use of technology is evolving quickly to help us become smarter, more strategic and safer, the security industry may be negligent in its careless use of words.

The bottom line is that words do matter. They can have a profound impact on how people behave, react and deal with security issues. The goal of the security industry should be to improve their use of language to ensure technology advancements mirror sound application practices.

About the authors and contributors:

Dr. Joe McGahan is the Professor of Social Psychology and co- director of The Social Science Research Lab at the University of Louisiana (Monroe, LA). His expertise is in the fields of social psychology, cognition, perception, social identity and statistical reasoning.  Dr. McGahan also leads the Chautauqua Nexus and is part of the Marketing Revelation team.

Dick Salzman, CPP, is the Chief Principal of Marketing Revelation, a full service marketing group that serves the security and technology sectors. Dick has an MBA and 30 years experience in the marketing, branding and business development of security and advanced technology products and services.

Morgan Sneed is a Psychology major at the University of Louisiana (Monroe, LA).  He is a retired SSGT of the USAF, Combat Correspondent HQ PACAF.

Chad Lambert is a Psychology and Criminal Justice major at the University of Louisiana (Monroe, LA). He is a retired Infantry Rifleman and Infantry Team Leader with Easy Co., 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.