Viral TSA Video Demonstrates Power of Video, Need for Transparency

Twenty-two seconds worth of video has put the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)  in hot water. It is also the latest example of the need for complete transparency in the smartphone and YouTube age.

A woman who claims the TSA detained her from her flight because the agent didn’t like her attitude posted a video of the confrontation on YouTube on Sept. 1. It has since received over 326,000 views.

Posted under the YouTube account AirportVideosofTSA, the video's description says, "I was not allowed to board a plane (even though I had already been through airport security) because I drank my water instead of letting the TSA 'test' it." The video itself features the following audio exchange:

Woman: Do you think I'm honestly a threat? Do you think that?
TSA agent: No, no, no but with your attitude . . .
Woman: Wait, let me get this straight, this is retaliatory for my attitude? This is not making the airways safer, this is retaliatory.
TSA agent: Pretty much, yes. [Inaudible]
Woman: Is that legal?
TSA agent: Yes it is.

When ABC News contacted the TSA, the organization said, "In our initial review, we concluded that this individual was screened in accordance with standard procedures." Neither the TSA's blog nor the blog's dedicated Twitter account mentioned the situation.

While this event may serve as an opportunity for the public to unload on the TSA (as it is wont to do—just look at the video's comments section) it also demonstrates the power of video. In this age of digital media, a camera is never further away than the nearest pocket. Citizen journalism means that everyone has power, and that brands are far more susceptible to customer whistle-blowing than ever. 

Think about it. The video was shot and uploaded by an unnamed woman to a brand-new YouTube account with no followers and has still managed to get worldwide attention. If it had been created by an influential member of the media or a celebrity (think of Kevin Smith's "too fat to fly" incident with Southwest Airlines, when he went on the attack against the airline to his then 1.6 million Twitter followers and turned the incident into headline news), the video would likely have spread even faster and further. 

Thanks to the possibility of video evidence for every interaction with public, here are four points to consider when a video casts a condemning spotlight on an organization:

  • Every single employee has the ability to tarnish your brand, and even the best training can't prevent the unpredictable. The knee-jerk reaction of denial is simply no longer on option for an organization—not that it was ever a good one to start with.

  • Accept that a mistake was made (assuming the video is not doctored, of course), take responsibility and move forward. Explain whether or not the situation was a breech of protocol or whether there is any precedent. When appropriate, Make clear that steps have been taken to deal with the individuals involved in the incident.

  • When faced with what may appear to be a negative situation, organizations must have an actionable plan in place and be quick to respond in crisis management fashion—whether that includes creating a quick video response, writing a blog post or responding on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Create a messaging platform that highlight's growth in the aftermath of the mistake. Spell out what actions were taken and what measures are being put into place to make sure such an event doesn't happen again. This can include new training sessions for employees or enacting new regulations. 

Follow Bill Miltenberg: @bmiltenberg