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TSA’s Officials Showcase Weirdest Stuff in Travellers’ Bags on Social Media

The agency's Instagram account won three Webby awards last year, including the People's Voice Award for weird social content marketing

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social media, weird stuff, travellers' bags
Items prohibited on passenger airlines and confiscated from passengers by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, are displayed at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 26, 2019. VOA

David Johnston stands over a table full of peculiar items confiscated at Dulles International Airport: a glittery clutch with brass knuckles as a clasp. A perfume bottle shaped like a grenade. A rusted circular saw blade. A pocket-sized pitchfork.

None of those is quite right. Then Johnston sees it: a guitar shaped like a semi-automatic rifle. Bingo. It will do nicely for the Transportation Security Administration’s social media accounts.

Johnston, TSA’s social media director, is following in the footsteps of Curtis “Bob” Burns, who created unlikely internet buzz for the not-always-beloved agency by showcasing the weirdest stuff travelers pack in their carry-ons. He died suddenly in October at age 48.

Burns’ work created a model for other federal agencies. The quirky photos combined with a hefty dose of dad humor helped lure in more than a million followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, who would then see important messages about the do’s and don’ts of airline travel.

 

social media, travellers' bags, weird stuff
David Johnston, TSA’s social media director, displays a knife which was confiscated from a passenger, at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 26, 2019. VOA

“How are we going to replace Bob? The reality is we can’t,” said Johnston. “We had a unique situation with him, but we can still be entertaining and help people as we find our way forward without him.”

On the blog, Burns shared a weekly count of firearms that TSA officers found at checkpoints nationwide. He did a summary of knives and all matter of other bizarre and sometimes scary items that travelers had stuffed into their bags, pockets, purses or briefcases.

In one Instagram post, someone tried to bring on a glove with razors for fingers and Burns (naturally) made a “Nightmare on Elm Street” joke.

“It’s safe to sleep on Elm Street again. Freddy lost his glove at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).”

The agency’s Instagram account won three Webby awards last year, including the People’s Voice Award for weird social content marketing. In his acceptance speech, Burns eyed the award, shook it and declared: “This Webby is carry-on approved!”

Johnston, who worked with Burns for about three years, and has been in government jobs for nearly a decade, has tried to keep it up all on his own, but it’s been tough.

Johnston sent out a Valentine’s Day post that showed off a throwing star, ax and double-edged dagger confiscated from a passenger’s carry-on bag. (“Safe travels, you romantic fool!”) And it was national puppy day recently, so that was an excuse for a photo of Cole, a big-eyed TSA explosives detection dog.

weird stuff, travellers' bags, social media
A Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) officer inspects a can which was packed in a suitcase flagged for a seconday inspection at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 26, 2019. VOA

TSA is growing its social media staff — bringing in three more workers to expand its social media presence. The staff will continue to use fodder sent in by officers around the country, who seize all manner of unusual items people try to bring onboard. But it’s hard to find people who have both the government know-how and a sense of humor that resonates.

Burns’ humor

Johnston said the thing that made Burns’ posts so special was Burns himself.

“When you look at his posts, you’re seeing a window into his soul,” he said. “It really was from his heart. He was a fun, happy guy.”

Burns’ sister-in-law, Candy Creech, said he had a dry sense of humor and a hefty dose of patriotism: He had served in the Gulf War. Burns had worked in airports before taking over social media and believed there was public negativity around TSA. He wanted to change that.

“And I think he felt he could change that by communicating with people in a way that wasn’t scolding,” she said. “He was one of a kind.”

During a TSA Facebook live, “Ask Me Anything” episode last year, Burns said the success of the account was partly due to the shock value.

“People don’t come to a government Instagram account and expert to see humor,” Burns said. “And they also don’t expect to see these crazy things that people are trying to bring on a plane.”

‘They Brought What?’

At Dulles, in the prohibited items section, Johnston sees a few possibilities for TSA’s YouTube series called “They Brought What?” including a large snow globe with big a white fairy imprisoned in some kind of liquid (It’s creepy and it has liquid, so they can highlight the liquid restrictions.)

social media, travellers' bags, weird stuff
David Johnston, TSA’s social media director, displays a lighter mounted inside of a bullet casing which was confiscated from a passenger at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., March 26, 2019. VOA

He passes over the four pairs of nunchucks (Yawn — you can’t believe how many people bring those) and a handful of pocket knives. He stops at a large bullet from Afghanistan that has been altered to be a cigarette lighter and pen.

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“The things people think of,” he said. Turning more serious for a moment, Johnston notes the importance of showing off these items, especially to people who aren’t well-traveled.

“The bottom line is our social media pages makes travelers better informed, so they have a better experience and it frees up our officers to do what they need to do — look for the bad actors,” he said. (VOA)

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Instagram Experiences Highest Outrage While Twitter Reports Least in Q4

The Facebook family of social media sites outage on November 28, 2019 was one of many social outages in Q4 2019

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Instagram
A combined 34,408 Facebook and Instagram users reported outages. Pixabay

Facebook-owned Instagram experienced the highest outage in the fourth quarter of 2019 with 21,682 reports at the peak on November 28, 2019, while Twitter reported the least amount of outage complaints with 15,952 reports at the peak on October 22, 2019, according to a new report on Tuesday.

The Twitter outage lasted only about a half an hour, leaving unable to tweet, retweet, like tweets or access their account at the peak of the outage, according to the findings by Downdetector, a company which tracks outages in technology platforms and social media sites. Facebook also experienced an outage on November 28 with 12,726 reports at the peak. The outage lasted about five hours and affected users across the globe.

“The Facebook family of social media sites outage on November 28, 2019 was one of many social outages in Q4 2019. The outage lasted about five hours and affected users in the US, Germany, Italy and Spain,” said the report titled “What Went Down? The Most Significant Online Service Outages in Q4 2019”.

“A combined 34,408 Facebook and Instagram users reported outages at the peak of the outage,” it added. Facebook’s Messenger app experienced a smaller outage on November 18, 2019 with 8,952 users reporting outages at the peak.

Instagram
Facebook-owned Instagram experienced the highest outage in the fourth quarter of 2019 with 21,682 reports at the peak on November 28, 2019, while Twitter reported the least amount of outage complaints with 15,952 reports at the peak on October 22, 2019. Pixabay

Snapchat, the popular multimedia messaging app was down for five and a half hours on October 14, 2019, leaving users unable to chat, send or receive photos from their friends. At the peak of the outage, 18,252 users from the US reported problems.

The outage was so significant as the hashtag #SnapchatDown was trending on Twitter at the time of the outage.In the mobile operators category, Vodafone was down for about four hours for thousands of users on October 23, 2019.

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At the peak of the outage, 21,065 users, primarily in Germany, reported having problems with their service, said the report. (IANS)