The backlash against the TSA’s recent new implementation of aggressive and invasive screening procedures in airports across the U.S. has been not only impressive in numbers, but groundbreaking in ways these protests formed. As the public became aware of the backscatter machines and “pat-downs,” the media 2.0-savvy public turned to social media – primarily YouTube, Facebook and Twitter – to share their horrifying experiences and those they witnessed.
After individuals used social media to share their own experiences, then the protest groups formed – and were followed quickly en masse. Only weeks after the questionably legal procedures were implemented by the TSA, the protest group We Won’t Fly has over 18,000 fans on Facebook and over 2,000 followers on Twitter. Another group, Fly with Dignity, has over 5,000 followers on Facebook. Together, they helped organize a “National Opt Out” day the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that would have created a severe backlog at the screening lines, as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. This “Opt Out Day” became a media headline the days leading up to protest.
Except, it turns out, 94% of travelers chose to just not fly instead. And those that did shared that many airports were not even using the backscatter machines or invasive pat-downs on “opt-out day,” even though the TSA insisted these screenings were necessary to maintain national security. The mobilization of consumers via social media through sharing their experiences and voicing their intent to protest had a direct, positive impact on the TSA – and effected change. At least for one day.
Can the power of social media affect TSA’s policies long-term? Or will the short attention span of U.S. citizens make permanent change unlikely?