The TSA's Instagram Is an Unexpected Goldmine of Guns, Weed and Endangered Seahorses
Forget FuckJerry. Forget BeigeCardigan. Pretend TheFatJewish never existed. In fact, forget the whole business of running an Instagram that prides itself in repackaging old Reddit posts and claiming it to be one's own work. There's only one Instagram account that should be followed and it's the TSA.
The Transportation Security Administration can be considered somewhat of a public relations nightmare. Nary a frequent flyer can retell a story concerning the TSA that doesn't involve painfully awkward searches, "random" security checks of the least-random variety and the bitter realization that the people who are violating your privacy the most will keep you from dying in a midair explosion.
So, what better way to combat the nation's ever-growing distaste for the TSA than by taking to the world of Instagram to show America that there's a softer, more self-aware side to the administration. They're slowly becoming the Robert Downey Jr. of Instagram — a total rebrand of something you were sure you'd forever distrust.
If you're not following TSA on Instagram, take a moment and do it now. Every single post, except for a few stray pics of explosive-detecting dogs, are of confiscated weapons of a fantastical sort: goodies that seem almost fictitious in their ridiculousness, but are, in fact, most certainly real.
"One of the many reasons we share these images is to use them as a deterrent to show people that we're going to find these things; to educate on the disruption caused at a checkpoint as a result and to strongly discourage travelers from attempting to carry on these prohibited items," Curtis "Bob" Burns, the TSA's social media team lead, said in an email.
Burns has seen it all, too. When asked about the weirdest encounters with illegal items, he whipped out this gem about "a traveler in Florida... who attempted to smuggle seven snakes and three turtles in his pants." He goes on to say that each of the snakes were "wrapped in hosiery." Knives and firearms tend to be the most common items confiscated by the administration, but shockingly, they're no strangers to the exotic animals that try, by their master's hands, to make it into different countries.
Take the five dead endangered seahorses that were found inside a bottle of liquor in Detroit:
"We're equally as puzzled as you," Burns said when asked about the seahorses. "In the end, we can only speculate, which I'll refrain from doing. While one person scours his or her bag to ensure there are no small knives, another packs a battle axe. Go figure. We do our best with our social media accounts to educate travelers on what they can and can't bring."
Why are they posting these pictures on Instagram, of all places? "In 2013, we became convinced that sharing images of prohibited items featured our blog would drive a lot of interest on Instagram," he explained. "The account's popularity took off immediately and was mentioned in Jimmy Kimmel's monologue a little over a week after it was launched. It hasn't slowed down since."
It really isn't a surprise that the general public has received the account with such excitement and curiosity. Looking through the number of posts almost has the same effect as milling through an exhibit at a museum — except, this exhibit is entirely crowdsourced. It also shows us how naive passengers can be in their hopes of getting things like a bag of weed hidden in a jar of peanut butter past the TSA.
Is there anything they can't post, because of, well, the law? "At times, there are very interesting items that we'd love to post, but can't due to an ongoing investigation," he said. "We passed on posting images of smuggled bear paws and an alligator head. While these items would have likely created a lot of conversation, they were a bit too, let's say, graphic to post." The question that keeps popping up is, why? Why would someone feel the need to transport a whole alligator head from one state or country to another?
For those wondering about what happens to these items after they're confiscated, Bob assured me that most items get moved along to different factions of the local and federal law enforcement — but that all depends on the item.
"It varies based on the item, circumstances and local laws. If it's an illegal item such as a firearm, it's up to local law enforcement officers at the respective airport to decide what to do. TSA's policy is not to handle or confiscate firearms. We notify law enforcement and they take the appropriate action."
Still, one can't help but see this account as a double-edged sword — not unlike the double-edged swords they find hidden in the luggage of angry Floridians. It's entertaining as all hell to scroll through the myriad illegal activities on the page, but also pretty shocking to know that people actually want to bring firearms, explosives and poisonous animal onboard planes.
Here's to hoping that the TSA doesn't stop uncovering weapons and reptiles alike and continuing to showcase their skills — however intrusive they may be — on a medium we can all understand, appreciate and share. It sure as hell beats tirelessly looking through second-hand memes and pictures of goddamn breakfast bowls.