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British Tourists Detained in US Over Twitter Jokes

Travel Safety
by Michelle Schusterman Jan 31, 2012
The TSA: Keeping America safe one Family Guy joke at a time.

LAST MONDAY, Leigh Van Bryan and Emily Bunting landed at LAX ready for a nice vacation. Instead, they were detained by armed guards, handcuffed, and kept in separate holding cells for 12 hours.

Why? A few tweets they sent prior to the trip resulted in them being flagged by the Department of Homeland Security. The offending tweets:

“Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?”

“3 weeks today, we’re totally in LA p****** people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up!”

As Van Bryan attempted to explain to the TSA, “destroy America” in this case meant “party in America” — fairly common slang. And the Marilyn Monroe quote is apparently from the (American) show Family Guy. But even if it wasn’t — really? We’re taking that tweet seriously?

It would seem so. Federal agents reportedly searched their luggage for spades and shovels, stating that they believed Bunting was going to act as Van Bryan’s lookout during the tomb raiding.

According to The New York Times, the Department of Homeland Security announced earlier this month that they were taking steps to improve how they monitor social media. The FBI stated that a newly developed application would have the “ability to instantly search and monitor key words and strings” on publicly available sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Their misinterpretation of Van Bryan’s use of “destroy” makes me wonder about Twitter’s recent announcement that they’re giving themselves the right to censor tweets in “specific countries.” Based on this Homeland Security fail, I can’t help but wonder how Twitter plans on choosing which tweets to block, taking things like slang and having a sense of humor into consideration. Is there really any way to scan all the ridiculous, uneducated, goofy things millions of people say online every day and find those that pose a real threat without arresting innocent people in the process?

Probably not. But at least I’ll sleep better tonight knowing that the US is safe from British twenty-somethings out to pull a Weekend at Bernie’s with Marilyn Monroe’s corpse.

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