TSA Experiences the Power of Viral Media
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screening procedures have once again made national news after a passenger flying out of San Diego airport recorded his encounter with TSA officials and posted it online. The man had opted-out of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) and refused to undergo a TSA pat down. The passenger’s online posting has provoked comments, protest movements, and, of course, jokes. This latest web posting highlights TSA’s need to prepare for a new type of news coverage: viral media.
The public’s desire to be a fly on the wall during funny or outrageous scenes is finally possible as the public records its experiences using smartphones and posts video and audio feeds to the internet. In many ways, these recordings are like reality TV, and as anyone who has been to the Jersey Shore knows, reality TV can be distorting. In fact, the majority of people in the United States approve of AIT, though they are more hesitant when it comes to the enhanced pat down procedures. But, as good reporters and TV producers know, passengers standing in line, waiting to go through scanners does not create a viral news story.
After the traveling public did not participate in Opt-Out Day, news channels largely stopped covering the pat down debate. However, TSA and other Department of Homeland Security components should not let this experience fade so quickly. Viral media, in many cases in the form of the public broadcasting its encounters with DHS officials, has the potential to cause public upset and a media frenzy. The Department of Homeland Security must be prepared to respond to viral campaigns, perhaps by being more transparent itself. A great example is TSA’s release of CCTV video footage to counter claims that TSA agents separated a woman from her child at a security checkpoint. As DHS proceeds in the evolving digital world, policies and media responses must be planned with the power of viral media in mind.