15 government PSAs that would never fly in the Internet age

Between social media and smartphones, every citizen in the U.S. is potentially a Johnny-on-the-spot reporter. Citizens use social media to tell government agencies and corporations just exactly what they think, forcing them to apologize for mishaps or unwise statements more often than they did in the past. But in the 1940s, during WWII and the Manhattan Project, the government used secrecy and "guilt-trip" billboards to help promote censorship in an effort to protect national security. With social media, these ads would never fly today, and would instantly drum up online backlash.

Oak Ridge billboard, New Year's Eve 1943

As part of the Manhattan Project in 1942, the U.S. government bought about 60,000 acres in Tennessee to be used for scientists working on the atomic bomb. The government tacked up eviction notices and gave about 1,000 local residents between two and six weeks to vacate. This billboard was posted in Oak Ridge on New Year's Eve 1943. It wasn't until 1949 that the city was officially dubbed Oak Ridge.

How Oak Ridge kept its secrets

It's obvious that the workers at Oak Ridge were not allowed to tell anyone about their work. The irony to all the secrecy billboards is that the people working in the plant, known only as Clinton Engineer Works (CEW), did not know exactly what they were working on. Most of the workers wouldn't learn what they were helping to build until Aug. 6, 1945, when the first atom bomb, Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

"Loose Talk Helps Our Enemy"

Much like how we are warned today that potential terrorists are everywhere, during WWII, it was said that spies were hiding everywhere in America. Billboards using FUD to promote self-censorship, such as this one erected at in Oak Ridge during World War II, were considered acceptable as a result.

"Silence Still Means Security"

Despite the secrecy and compartmentalization to protect national security during our quest to build the atom bomb, Soviet spies successfully infiltrated the Manhattan Project. Much like Chinese cyberspies of today, the Soviet Union wanted to build an atom bomb too, but without needing to spend the money on research and development to figure it out. This security billboard was posted at the Hawley Plant in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1944.

Guilt-tripping Manhattan Project scientists

In 1943, Manhattan Project scientists and workers were working around the clock. They didn't know what they were working on, but they weren't allowed to talk about what they knew. If that wasn't enough, the government put up guilt-trip billboards so workers wouldn't miss a day of work. This would never fly today. All kinds of social media hell would break out.

If you can't fight in the war, don't miss work, you slacker

This ad promoting good attendance was also posted in Oak Ridge in 1943, again exploiting the war to encourage Manhattan Project workers not to miss a day. By May 1945, Clinton Engineer Works employed 82,000 people, and that was only at Oak Ridge.

When the enemy monitored us

Back in the day, security was all about hammering home the topic of secrecy. Granted, it was wartime and no American wanted Communists to win. America has "progressed" to the point that its own government is now recording its citizens' communications ... just in case.

"Don't Talk: Silence Means Security"

These kinds of government promotions, which push security through secrecy, are called anti-rumor propaganda. It extended to instructing Americans to keep their eyes open and their mouths shut, out of fear that the enemy could be listening. Any careless or loose talk could sink ships and cause deaths.

"The Enemy is Looking for Information"

Bad guys looking for leaks nowadays hack into websites, databases or send phishing emails. Yet operations security is supposed to protect critical information by keeping Americans aware that shoulder surfers and social engineers are everywhere. This one relates to modern-day OPSEC, as employees would be advised against blabbing about vital information on social media. But it likely wouldn't be stated so blatantly these days.

"Your Pen and Tongue can be Enemy Weapons"

Today, with the help of social media, a billboard like this would instantly appear online for people to start probing for the reason behind it. While you may not be called to the carpet for a careless Facebook update or tweet, government agencies are also monitoring social media.

Guilt trip in case anyone wants a day off

This billboard, also posted at Oak Ridge in 1943, may be true -- anyone stationed overseas would gladly switch places with an everyday American. Just the same, it's amazing how many ads at the Secret Atomic City used wartime images to dish out guilt trips.

Seriously, this is way over the top

This billboard, posted in Oak Ridge in 1944, goes a little overboard -- implying that employees who waste time are responsible for a soldier's death overseas. Keep in mind that many of these people knew, and were related to, people serving in the war.

Daydreamers are a security threat, too?

After WWII, security billboards changed. Workers at Oak Ridge who tried to escape the humdrum details of daily life by daydreaming were a security threat, as this 1960 billboard implies. It's especially interesting when considering that some of today's most successful tech companies give employees substantial free time to do their "wishful thinking."

"One in every crowd!"

This 1960s billboard ad is still true today. There is always one in every crowd who is an "attention hog." If you tell a story about something, they've done it better, twice, and are always ready to talk about it. However, using it to promote censorship among the workforce would likely attract some negative attention today.

Cryptic security billboard

Who knows what this cryptic security billboard really meant? It was posted at Oak Ridge in 1970. Maybe this was during the time that obscurity meant security?

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