Tensions are high in the aftermath of the likely pilot hijacking of MH370 and even more than 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, the mentality of fear surrounding aviation security remains ingrained. With that in mind, I would recommend against joking about terrorism.
Last Saturday, a 14yr-old Dutch girl exchanged the following with American on Twitter, freaking out after receiving a chilling response from AA:
Whatever AA did was not clear, but in another tweet, Dutch authorities stated, “Dutch girl (14) from Rotterdam arrested after American Airlines threat. Investigation continues. #Rotterdam #Police #Force @americanair”
I just have to wonder—could it be that this was a facetious tweet from the Rotterdam police? Something like Inspector Clouseau finding his man—a little girl. Why mention the age?
Am I also the only one a bit surprised a 14-year old Dutch girl would write that about a U.S. carrier? What did AA do to her?
Free speech, especially outside the USA, is not absolute. You cannot yell fire in a crowded theatre if there is not a fire and you cannot make jokes about terrorism that may be interpreted as threats in an age in which fears run high and in which thousands have died within our lifetimes because of airline terrorism.
So it was bad a bad choice and the girl was arrested. But now dozens of others are tweeting terrorist threats to AA in protest.
Now wait! you might say. Didn’t your beloved writer also joke about terrorism and get thrown off a United flight for it? My response is NO—I was simply annoyed that the FA forbid me from taking a photo of my seat and asked her a serious question—did she think I was a terrorist. I maintain that words like terrorist and hijacking should not be off-limits because it conjures up bad memories in the minds of some. I’ve argued on several occasion that terrorists achieve their objective when we totally modify our way of lives and live in fear based on their actions.
But are these follow-up tweets satire, a protest that all threats must be taken seriously, a protest of fear itself?
The problem is that our paranoia over security is so prevalent that repeated terrorist jokes sent out by Twitter accomplish nothing but burdening the resources of law enforcement personnel who must look into every tweet lest they later be accused of malfeasance if something did happen. Every threat is taken seriously because officials determine, using a cost/benefit analysis, that it makes sense to do so, that the public at large demands it.
That analysis must change, but it won’t change simply by too many instances of boy cry wolf. I hate to be defeatist, but I see no achievable solution to this problem. In order for paranoia to subside, we must have faith in our airport screening personnel (that’s not going to happen), a little faith in our fellow man (also unlikely if they look different than us), and a bit of vigilance (the TSA or Air Marshals have never stopped a threat – passengers have).
Until that happens, the tweets just exacerbate a problem. Our security paradigm is a joke, but so deeply ingrained that it is no joke to say that there is no upside or levity in tweeting bomb threats.