'Freak' TSA screener in process to be fired, Blogger Bob says

The Transportation Security Administration’s response in the recent “Get Your Freak On” luggage note incident seems to be testing out the theory that what happens in social media, can stay (mostly) in social media.

The strategy may be working. The incident started with a tweet, igniting a social media frenzy. TSA responded in a blog with a promise to fire the employee, and now the Twitterati and blogging crowd seems to have moved on to other topics.

Related story:

TSA's Blogger Bob reads the tabloids

It could be a sign that federal agencies, who began forays onto social media about two years ago, may have become more adept with the new communications tools now than when they first started.

The incident began on Oct. 24 when a blogger reported that TSA baggage employee had inserted a suggestive note (saying “Get Your Freak On Girl” in capital letters) into her luggage, apparently after noticing an adult toy packed in the bag.

“Just unpacked my suitcase and found this note from TSA. Guess they discovered a ‘personal item’ in my bag. Wow,” tweeted New York blogger Jill Filipovic along with a photo of the note.

Soon the photo was being widely tweeted, blogged about, and reported by major news media around the country as a borderline creepy example of invasion of privacy by a federal worker, with a few jokes thrown in.

Within days the hashtag #GETYOURFREAKONGIRL became a popular hashtag on Twitter and a topic for ABC News.

The TSA used its official TSA Blog to respond to the incident.

“TSA quickly launched an investigation and identified the employee responsible,” TSA’s “Blogger Bob” wrote on Oct. 26. “That individual was immediately removed from screening operations and appropriate disciplinary action has been initiated. The handwritten note was highly inappropriate and unprofessional, and TSA has zero tolerance for this type of behavior. Agency officials have also reached out to the passenger to personally apologize for this unfortunate incident.”

On Oct. 27, this update appeared on the entry: "TSA has completed its investigation of this matter, and has initiated action to remove the individual from federal service." The employee is entitled to due process, the update notes.

With 88 comments responding to that TSA Blog entry, the agency received some praise for how it handled the errant employee.

“Good job taking swift action…thank you!” Was one of the comments. “It is good to see you are admitting fault when necessary,” was another.

Other commenters, posting before the Oct. 27 update,  suggested the employee should have been fired and that TSA’s “zero tolerance” policy did not go far enough. “Why don’t you fire this sick freak?” asked one commenter.

Despite those comments, overall, the TSA’s handling of the negative publicity seems to have been effective in addressing the issues raised on the social networks. While Google News reported 241 articles written about the “freak” incident as of Oct. 27, the number seemed to have peaked the day before and was decreasing over time.

Even Filipovic seemed to be ready to move on, now that the TSA worker was suspended and she penned a response. “Now can this go away?” she tweeted on Oct. 26.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Mon, Oct 31, 2011

Maybe this shouldn't go away. If people are willing to post things like this to the whole world in order to preemptively embarrass a federal agency into taking some action then they should be prepared for the consequences. I think the TSA would have worked with Ms. Filipovic to solve this problem discretely to her satisfaction without the media frenzy. Now, if she had tried that route without success then more power to her.

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