TSA Leading Charge to Co-opt Blogging, Twitter for The Man?

Twitter and blogs started as way to give voice to the little guys. Now the big guys are using the same tools to criticize the critics.

full body scan

Twitter’s been a breath of fresh air in the social networking space, seeming a free and relatively user-centric system, with the patriarchal Corporate and Governmental “Man” conspicuous for his absence. But is the TSA trying to change this?


Recently we, and many other media outlets, covered the news piece about the TSA’s dubious behavior regarding the controversial full-body scanner systems that we’ll be seeing more and more of in airports and other locations as the TSA invades our privacy for the sake of our safety. The tech behind these scanners is new, it brings a host of safety and new moralistic questions to mind, and it looked like the TSA wasn’t doing an honest job of explaining this stuff to its lords and masters (yes, that’s you–the public.) A similar story went viral across the Net back in October when a blogger called Nicole White wrote, passionately, about a supposedly serious and potentially lawsuit-worthy nightmare failing by the TSA: Agents took her toddler son out of viewshot, without permission, at an airport checkpoint. This frankly inexcusable act caused untold vitriol and anti-TSA sentiment on the Web.

And then the TSA’s stepped up, using its public-facing and very successful blog (which you may not have even imagined existed) to debunk this story, using the same Web tools as White herself used. A posting by “Blogger Bob” Burns of the TSA showed video surveillance of the supposed incident, clearly showing White’s son was always within eyeshot. The TSA’s also used the blog to attempt to debunk the privacy concerns stirred up by a mocked-up image of a naked woman, supposedly recreated to look fleshily-realistic from body-scanner imagery. Still more recently, the TSA’s blog is hosting a post on the safety issues surrounding the scanners–the health risk is apparently “tiny.”

More recently, Toyota’s been using social media to quash worries about the stuck accelerator pedal affecting a number of Toyota vehicles. Responding to the kind of anti-Toyota sentiments expressed on Twitter feeds like this one, Toyota’s been trying to portray its version of the truth on its blogs, and its own Twitter feeds.

Is this merely something we should expect as tech-savvy companies become increasingly switched on to social media? After all, they’re rebuttals have almost the same power to go viral as outrage postings that bring complaints to light in the first place. Or is it a sign that Twitter’s growing power (combined with the fact that Facebook is more popular than Google, and that blogs are challenging “traditional media” for news supremacy) has attracted the inevitable attention of The Man, and social-media’s days as a free-flowing user-driven information source are numbered?

[Via NationalDefenseMagazine]

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)