The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has faced a lot of scrutiny over the past few years; the majority of it due to privacy concerns. Those concerns won’t be going away any time soon.
On Monday, Oct. 24, lawyer and writer Jill Filipovic tweeted the following picture of a note left in her suitcase, alongside her vibrator, after a flight:
She also blogged about it, saying, “Total violation of privacy, wildly inappropriate and clearly not ok, but I also just died laughing in my hotel room.”
The TSA was quick to investigate and released a statement today informing the public of the guilty employee’s termination. As hilarious as I find this incident, from a PR perspective, they did the right thing. Just two days after the picture was tweeted, the organization had identified the guilty individual, removed them from screening operations and personally reached out to Filipovic to apologize. And, in a respectably ethical move, the TSA withheld the employee’s name from the press to respect his or her privacy.
This was great crisis management. Because Filipovic didn’t appear to be too upset or offended by the incident, the TSA probably could have gotten away with treating the situation lightly. But they did the right thing for all parties involved (although I’m sure the fired employee might disagree with me there).
Somewhat surprisingly, Filipovic thinks the TSA went too far in their response. After learning of the employee’s suspension, she wrote on her blog:
“As much as this is a funny and titillating story, when I put the note on Twitter for what I thought was a relatively limited audience, I was hoping it would open up a bigger conversation about privacy rights (or lack thereof) in post-9/11 America. It unfortunately…has turned into a media circus. The note was inappropriate, the agent in question acted unprofessionally when s/he put it in my bag, there should be consequences and I’m glad the TSA takes these things seriously. But I get no satisfaction in hearing someone may be in danger of losing their job over this. I would much prefer a look at why ‘security’ has been used to justify so many intrusions on our civil liberties, rather than fire a person who made a mistake.”
Now, for someone who seems to be an intelligent person, she said something pretty ridiculous in her blog. Since when is anything posted on Twitter only for a relatively limited audience? Unless you decide to have no friends on Facebook, no connections on LinkedIn and no followers on Twitter, anything you post or share can spread like wildfire regardless of your privacy settings. It’s a little ironic her goal was to start a conversation on privacy rights, but somehow failed to understand Twitter is anything but private.
In the span of a few hours, social media can turn a lit match into a forest fire. And something this newsworthy and entertaining might as well be a barrel of gasoline just waiting to explode.
According to Filipovic’s blog, she’s worried about being known as the “Get Your Freak On” girl for the foreseeable future. It’s very possible. But at least she can find some solace knowing she helped spread a valuable lesson: one innocuous tweet can transform itself into national news.
Welcome to 2011.