Ethical Considerations for using ephemeral notes in post-apocalyptic Contexts


Post-apocalyptic scenarios, whether due to nuclear war, pandemic, or other catastrophic events, pose immense challenges for survivors seeking to rebuild society. Communication and coordination are essential, yet infrastructure collapse and threats from malicious actors complicate secure information sharing. Ephemeral notes – messages that automatically delete after being read or after a set time – offer a potential solution by leaving no permanent record. However, the use of temporary notes also raises significant ethical questions.

Advantages of ephemeral notes

Ephemeral notes provide several key benefits in post-apocalyptic contexts. Automatic deletion prevents messages from being intercepted or falling into the wrong hands, protecting survivors from discovery by hostile groups. Ephemerality also promotes honesty and psychological safety, allowing survivors to share sensitive information and personal feelings without fear of future repercussions. The lack of a permanent record may foster more authentic communication. From a security standpoint, ephemeral notes align with data minimisation and “right to be forgotten” principles. Retaining only essential information reduces the risk and harm of data breaches. Ephemeral communication systems can also be designed for resilience and decentralisation, mitigating dependency on fragile infrastructure.

However, the use of temporary notes also introduces ethical risks. A permanent record is necessary for accountability and transparency. Bad actors may exploit the absence of evidence to spread misinformation, manipulate others, or deny past agreements or misdeeds. This can erode trust and social cohesion at a time when cooperation is vital for survival. Ephemeral communication may exclude certain groups, such as those with less technological literacy or access. Over-reliance on ephemeral notes could lead to critical information being recovered if converted to more persistent forms. The automatic deletion of information also denies survivors the chance to learn from the past and preserve cultural heritage for future generations. There are additional risks of ephemeral systems being compromised or misused. Malicious actors could manipulate ephemerality for their ends, such as prematurely setting messages to be deleted. Buggy or poorly designed systems could lead to unintended data loss. As with any technology, brief notes are not an unmitigated good. For more info about protected text check


To maximise the benefits of temporary notes in post-apocalyptic scenarios, the following guidelines are proposed:

  • Reserve ephemeral communication for sensitive, time-limited operational coordination. Use more persistent communication channels for important agreements, historical records, and community knowledge bases.
  • Build in granular user control over deletion settings, with secure default to ephemerality. Provide clear indicators of ephemerality status and easy user overrides.
  • Complement ephemeral notes with other security best practices, such as end-to-end encryption, forward secrecy, authentication of communication partners, and decentralised infrastructure.
  • Establish community norms and governance frameworks around acceptable use of brief notes, with clear sanctions for abuse. Continuously sustain social trust, cohesion, and accountability through social and technical means.
  • Prioritize equitable access to ephemeral systems and upskill community members in their use. Maintain offline backups and alternative communication channels for resilience.

In the harsh conditions of post-apocalyptic scenarios, ephemeral notes offer a means for secure, private communication and coordination. However, ephemerality is a double-edged sword, introducing novel challenges around accountability, trust, and social cohesion—careful consideration of the ethical implications to harness the benefits of temporary notes while mitigating the risks. Ongoing, inclusive dialogue within survivor communities is needed to navigate these challenges in a manner responsive to local contexts and values.