Snatched Kid, Doctored Photos—TSA’s Blogger Bob Rolls with the Punches

Blogger Bob Curtis was a recent guest speaker at the Society for Technical Communications awards luncheon in Washington DC. Bob manages the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) social media strategy and content. And he is the lead author of The TSA Blog.

Bob told stories and offered tips to bloggers—especially for those who handle sensitive and unpopular topics. Calling his agency the “2nd most unpopular next to the IRS”, Bob said most people who visit TSA’s blog come to vent. Created two years ago, the TSA blog gets about 50,000 hits per month. He and TSA have been called every bad thing under the sun, he said, so much of his writing is directed to debunking myths and protecting TSA’s reputation.

There was the case of the “mommy blogger” who claimed that her kid was taken by an airport security person against her will. Her blog post went viral, causing a stir for TSA. Bob kicked into action and retrieved video from the airport where the woman said the incident happened. Finding nine video
angles of her passing through security proved that her story was false. Bob posted these to YouTube, blogged about it, and very soon the viral tide turned in TSA’s favor.

Another blogger posted a nude photo doctored to look like it was taken with a security “xray” system. Bob proved that the photo originated in Germany and was a hoax. He said that he ran the photo
through the website to trace its origin. Another false story put to rest.

When a traveler was pulled aside because his Mac Air computer looked suspicious to TSA scanners, and the flyer complained on Bob’s blog, he asked Apple to lend him an Air and he had it scanned to see what was up. It turned out that the computer was wired differently than most laptops
and its wires closely resembled detonators. The blogger’s story led Bob to produce a YouTube video on the Apple computer that also went viral. And the video was used to train TSA security staff about the computer’s construction, so they could pass it through safely.

Bob’s blogging style is direct, down to earth and humorous. He’s a model for knowing how to respond—from an agency that comes under constant fire—with facts, technical knowledge and a lots of hearty laughs.

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Adriel Hampton

Thanks for sharing! The TSA blog really is a great example of how agencies can and should inform and respond using social media.