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The TSA Took Her Child…Or Maybe Not…But the Point…

Updated at the bottom

My normal reaction when I see self-created drama unfolding is to walk away.  And yet, here I am, two posts in one day on a situation that is wrought with self-created drama.  And it’s because I think there is a nugget of something very important at the heart of this.  The concept of using a blog as a weapon.

The blogger has since issued an apology of sorts, offering answers to questions people raised, though inviting more questions in the process and still making some pretty heavy accusations.  At the end of the day, like other situations that have occurred with blogs in our community, it comes down to each reader choosing what they believe.  Either you think the blogger is telling the truth or you don’t, and while we usually believe the blogger when they admit their lies such as the case of Little April Rose, it rarely seems to work the other way around.

The additional problem here is that she is publicly making some huge accusations about the conduct of the TSA–from taking her child to editing video–and she will need to back them up if they come knocking on her door.  Which comes to the point I really want to make:

Blogs are not weapons nor should they be used as such.

What bothered me the most about this story–beyond having to slog through so many retweets about it–is how she spoke about the incident on Twitter:

  • needless to say, today has been hell… but TSA will be ripped a new asshole thanks to freelance writing.
  • no lie. i am writing up every MINUTE that took place of them separating me from my child, without me even seeing him and publishing it.
  • srsly? i was just goina go all written on them with “the people” that i know.
  • full story can’t be posted on my blog…. publishers want it.
  • i’m not posting shit. i’m writing a piece to be published much more widespread than my blog that get 6 hits.
  • fuck the letters. my voice is stronger if it goes public. it was HORRIFIC.
  • eh, i can put it on my blog, but get paid if someone picks up my story… MWUAHAHAHA…. pay me for my insanity!!!!
  • dunno if i’m goina blog about it… may pitch it to publications and go waaaay out with it. i dunno yet.
  • cuz i leave for the west coast sat morn at 6 am but want to raise fuckin hell by then.
  • thank you love. i appreciate the RTs. will write a post when i am a little more stable. and yeah, they fucked with the wrong mom.
  • BIGGER…. i’m writing a post and titling it “TSA TOOK MY SON” so everyone who googles TSA will find it.

And that is what bothers me enough to write about this a second time.  Because while it may feel really good to think in your head about the power of the written word when you are being knocked down by an organization or business, it is not a sound idea to put that concept into action, using the blog essentially like a whip to beat down another person, place, or thing.

We are accountable for what we place on the Web.  And when we levy accusations or gush glowingly about another person, place, or thing, we better be willing to stand behind our words.  In other words, once you start the ball game, you better be willing to stick around and see it through all the innings.  You can’t throw out one pitch and then run.

That was one of the points of the FTC’s ruling on disclosure for bloggers doing reviews.  It was the idea that people do take what they read online and run with it and we have a responsibility not to steer people towards an item we wouldn’t have paid for ourselves.  And it works in both directions–don’t hurl insults or make accusations to punish an organization or business.  In other words, don’t use your blog like a weapon or a fairy wand.

Use it as a personal space to express an opinion and share how you see the world.  Use it to connect with others or gather support or spread information.  But use your powers for good rather than evil.

At the end of the day, the impulse to write the post is just as important as the words on the screen.  Are you writing in anger to vent (get out emotions) or are you writing in anger to punish?  Are you writing glowingly to praise because you are truly tickled by something you found, or are you writing glowingly to praise because someone gave you a free item?

And frankly, based on her own quote: “eh, i can put it on my blog, but get paid if someone picks up my story… MWUAHAHAHA…. pay me for my insanity!!!!” I have a feeling that her post didn’t come from the right place.  This wasn’t about educating the public, holding an organization accountable, or venting about a scary moment.  This was about punishment, personal gain, the power of words to hurt another person after we’ve been hurt.


I stand strongly by my words that blogging–like any communication or interaction with other people–comes with responsibility.  With “reality” television, the viewer knows that we’re looking at a heavily edited medium that is leading us to certain thoughts.  And I think we come to the same understanding with blogs.  We are not looking at raw footage of a life: we’re looking at an edited version of events in a life.  And there is plenty of room for personal interpretation of events.  Someone might report that someone yelled, and if I had heard the same words, would have said that they were said in a normal tone of voice.  I think most of us read blogs taking those things into consideration.

But there is a difference between changing small facts to protect another person’s identity or changing that the sweater was green rather than red because that’s how you think you remember it, and creating an all-out-lie.  When we watch reality television, we watch with an understanding that the events, however staged, took place.  It would become fiction if they shot some footage of Kate from Jon and Kate against a blue screen and then set her in situations she was never in.

I think there is a social contract between reader and artist.  And I think we hashed this discussion to the gills when the whole James Frey incident came out.  If it’s fiction, mark it as fiction.  If you present it as reality, people utilize the information learned in a different way.

My point with the FTC ruling is that it’s no better to use your blog to gush falsely than it is to use your blog to lie to harm another person, place, or thing–not that this blogger’s situation falls under the FTC guidelines.


1 Kate { 10.17.09 at 10:59 pm }

All of this is so disturbing. BUT- I will continue to err on believing than disbelieving because these are freak examples I think, and thats why they make headlines. Personally, I hae another blog that I write in (non IF related) and it used to be very popular several years back. A few years ago I found out someone was plagiarizing me word for word using their story as their own life. Not for profit, or anything like that, just pretending to be me. It’s surreal since she did this for a year, and people were invested in “her” story. I think you wrote a post along the same line about emotions that can sometimes be jerked around on-line. I guess its a risk when we read, but on the whole I’d like to believe most of us, 97% of us are truly who we say.

2 Sarah { 10.17.09 at 11:33 pm }

How the hell did I miss this?
I think what you say is so true Mel, and that’s why I have two self imposed blog rules, don’t blog when upset or if I’ve had a drink. I know I’d end up regretting it.

3 Marjorie { 10.17.09 at 11:40 pm }

Thanks for pointing out that words are powerful, that we are responsible for the words we utter, that a microphone and an audience are responsibilities rather than privileges.

4 DD { 10.17.09 at 11:53 pm }

Blogs – to me – are no different than writing a book. Books can be sci-fi, romance, fetish, satanic, cooking, etc. Of course, we assume that somewhere along the way a book will end up under either fiction or non-fiction because they are required to (correct?). However, as far as I know, when I signed up for my blogs, and I’ve had one under blogspot, wordpress and typepad, no where was it requested or required for me to say if the context was going to be fiction or non-fiction.

What the readers chose to believe – or not believe – is really up to the reader, isn’t it? Does this mean that the blogger/writer should have to provide proof for every discrepency? Of course not. Same thing with the recent rash of dead baby bloggers who may not really have a deady baby. Sure, it’s creepy and a little mental to write that you had a baby that died if you really didn’t, but so what if it’s a lie? Some say they invested themselves emotionally and that it’s just WRONG…who is ultimately responsible, the reader or the blogger for that poor investment?

We hope that people follow their morals, but we shouldn’t let ourselves become naive to the fact that some bloggers go beyond adding “color” to their posts to out and out bold faced lies. But who are we, the Blogging Police?

You say blogs are not weapons nor should they be. I guess I don’t see why they shouldn’t be if that’s what the owner decides to do with them. Sometimes weapons aren’t used to just hurt someone (like in this case); these weapons (aka blogs) are also used to defend ourselves when we claim breastfeeding/formula is best; when we defend our choice to be a SAHM/work out of the home; to defend our choice to homebirth/schedule a c-section.

She made her choice on how she used her blog. Now SHE must live with it. We don’t.

5 Battynurse { 10.18.09 at 12:10 am }

This seems so much like one of those things that gains way too much momentum. I don’t know what the whole situation is. From the video I’d guess that she was pissed about having to wait and decided to make up a story for revenge. Problem is that revenge is petty and you usually don’t end up feeling better for it. Also I’m guessing that she didn’t realize they would fire back with a video of her time there. Whether she was looking for a lawsuit or whatever it’s sort of pathetic but there seem to be so many people like that. As far as what she has chosen to use her blog as? Yes it seems like she has chosen to use her blog to stir up shit. From what I’ve seen before, most blogs of that sort tend to have a very short shelf life compared to others.

6 Kate { 10.18.09 at 12:23 am }

To DD, while you’re right blogs can be fiction, I think when we read about people’s stories on blogs we assume they are real, and this isn’t our naivete, blogs come from the word weblog, sort of online journals of our lives or points of view on topics of interest, not fictional accounts. The April Rose lady knew people were investing in her, she knew that the gifts people were purchasing adn sending to her were for a “real” baby and to support a mother who was truly losing a terminally ill baby upon birth. That is manipulation.

7 Mrs. Gamgee { 10.18.09 at 1:22 am }

Most bloggers I have come to know are storytellers. Some are better than others, but we all want to share our stories and have them heard. I think the temptation to embellish or exaggerate can sometimes be very overpowering. Especially if the subject matter is something we are emotional about. The tightrope we walk is the knowledge that there will always be someone out there to call us out (rightly so, or wrongly).

Words, true or not, have the power to injure or the power to build a person up. To say otherwise is to be just as naive as believing absolutely everything we read. We have as much responsibility for the words we put out into the bloggy-world as we do for the words we say. Probably more, as these words hang around a heck of a lot longer.

I respectfully disagree with DD. We don’t need to use our blogs as weapons, even to defend our personal opinions. It’s possible to express your opinion without attacking or using words as weapons. And yes, I think we do have a responsibility to our readers to be honest (or to be up front when we are being ‘creative’).

8 Half of a Duo, Raising a Duo { 10.18.09 at 7:27 am }

I just blog for me and don’t distort the truth. I know I have readers but I would never abuse the privilege of using my writing skills to write heinous things and use my blog as a weapon. Someday my sons will be reading the blog to understand me and read about their lives. Writing garbage that makes no sense would be an embarrassment to me as well as…
show them how NOT to be.

I’m trying to raise up my kids right, to do right in this world, not to put out hate and negativity.

I read some of the excerpts of what you wrote that she wrote. She sounds like a self-absorbed – narcissistic – co-dependent who is either bipolar in a manic phase and doing the self-aggrandizing thing, or has BPD of some sort. Yikes.

If you think I am pointing fingers… well I’ve read enough about this stuff to see her reality… and she herself paints herself as insane so, you know, I’m just calling it like I read it from her own fingers…

You can tell a lot about a person by their writing, that is for sure. What lies behind the words… is a person that, for many writers, is easily seen.

9 Kristin { 10.18.09 at 7:50 am }

All I can say Mel is “Well said!” I don’t pretend to understand this blogger’s motives but spinning a story for the soel aim of damagin someone is always wrong.

10 jodifur { 10.18.09 at 9:04 am }

I think this was a great post. I actually believe there was some kind of hallucination or mental breakdown. I’m not saying that to be mean, I’m really not. I guess I just refuse to believe someone would make this up for blog traffic. She would have to know the truth would come up. But maybe I’m naive also. I do think your points were incredibly valid and well written.

11 Aurelia { 10.18.09 at 9:22 am }

Actually Mel, the FTC guidelines applied only to commerce, and not political speech, and have nothing to do with this.


As political free speech, this is completely protected, and she has every right to say whatever she wants about the US government, and never has to back any of it up, EVER.

It’s the foundation of the US constitution, and whether you like it or not, we can all write whatever we damn well feel like, lies or truth, and no, the TSA has no right to show up on her door and make her be accountable or make her tell the truth, or anything else.

She can’t lie about individuals like you or me, because that’s slander and libel, and frankly, she can sue anyone who implies she is lying because that is slander and libel against her.

But the government? Nope—we can do anything on the planet to them. It’s the foundation of our democracy. Neat, huh?

For those of you who believe that the the TSA would never lie about the video, I have some Weapons of mass destruction to sell you.

12 tash { 10.18.09 at 9:29 am }

I’m just so confused by all of this, but maybe it’s because my intentions and motivations are in the wrong places. I write a “grief blog,” so I don’t really feel it does me any good to lie. (In fact, when I don’t have grief to write about, I don’t write. Hence the recent long pauses.) I understand now that some people think a grief blog is a fantastic (!) way to get attention, to which I say: No, it’s really fucking not. I’d rather get attention and 500 hits by posting about how I’m going to spend my $80 million lottery winnings. So as to this story, I’m not sure what the blogger’s mo is for writing in the first place, but if she’s a mommy blogger I could see where this situation (let’s be kind and say “problems while traveling with a toddler”) could make it onto her blog, if I had a serious problem like that though, I’d cut out the middle man and go straight to the press and/or the authorities. The blog helps YOU get attention, it does not help RECTIFY the situation, which I would hope would be her priority here?

Clearly I’m too nice. Or something. I missed the whole kid-in-a-balloon story, thank goodness. I’m not even going to bother catching up.

13 Road Blocks and Roller Coasters { 10.18.09 at 9:53 am }

Thank you for posting the Tweets as it puts an entirely different (and more realistic) spin on her motives for writing the post. Clearly she was using her blog as a weapon AND trying to drum up traffic, which is done at the expense of her child and her own identity not to mention she looks like a huge liar. Whether the video is edited or not, it doesn’t change the fact that now her intentions are tainted.

It’s disgusting and annoying that people do things like this, but it is sadly not surprising. Everyone feels entitled to cashing in on their 15 minutes of fame, truth and self respect be damned.

14 niobe { 10.18.09 at 10:45 am }

Um… I guess I’m just an idiot about this kind of thing, but my reaction to this type of stuff generally is: If she were going to make up a story, couldn’t she make up a better one than *that*?

and I guess the answer is: apparently not.

15 Calliope { 10.18.09 at 11:29 am }

I totally missed all of this. But is it weird to admit that I actually prefer to hear about these things processed through your mind? It is the best kind of filter for blog crazy that I know- to read about things after the fact from your point of you. Thanks for being a voice of reason.

16 cindi { 10.18.09 at 11:57 am }

I really like the way you presented this issue. Clearly, concisely, and objectively. It provided me with some “grown-up” reading that educated me about somethings I didn’t understand in the past. Thanks.

17 DD { 10.18.09 at 12:44 pm }

I wholeheartedly agree that the Aril Rose-r was pure manipulation to the point of material gain. While weblogs were originally created as journals, that most certainly isn’t always the case anymore.

Let me remind the bloggers who’ve been around for a while of Jen and CHEW. Her blog doesn’t exist anymore but she used her blog repeatedly to attack – yes, ATTACK, as in a weapon with words – the processes that lead to a failed adoption in China. And like this TSA case, another blog was opened to directly respond to her: http://ccaaresponds.wordpress.com/

If whatshername who wrote the post about TSA wanted to add that they not only stole her baby but then replaced him with an alien, then again I have to say, so what? That’s really her choice, isn’t it? And isn’t it our choice whether or not to feed into that? I guess if TSA sues and wins a slander suit, we’ll know for sure who is telling the truth.

I’ll still stand by the fact that we each have a right to say what we want not only on our blogs, but in the comments of other blogs (thank you, Mel, for that), and that we most certainly should take moral responsibilities for what we say because it is the right thing to do, but NOT because we HAVE to.

18 Liana { 10.18.09 at 12:49 pm }

I think what this event illustrates to me is the level of personality disorder, neurosis and frank psychosis sprinkled (or dolloped) throughout the population. And the dear interweb brings the intermixing of people with these disorders into the general milieu with a degree that you don’t often see IRL since real life doesn’t let you hide the visual and verbal cues that would tip a person off like the web does.

In addition, unlike our “celebrities” IRL, the blogsphere favorites don’t have posses of stylists, publicists and assorted people to run interference in order to prevent much of the stupidity that comes with those seeking their 15 minutes of fame…and money.

But I do agree…blogs can and should be tools to expose injustice. But trying to weaponize your blog misguidedly in order to gain the limelight and money? Well that’s another story.

19 IF Crossroads { 10.18.09 at 2:00 pm }

Wow. The things that people will do for attention and publicity. Just like the CO family that was in the news this week for possibly loosing their child in a hot air balloon … and now that all seems like a made-up farce.
It saddens me that there are dishonest people out there that wish to tell fabrications and lies and use blogs to push their agendas. In an age where blogs have become a part research methods it just makes you think twice about believing what you read. However, I do believe that people like this are the exception and not the norm.

20 a { 10.18.09 at 2:46 pm }

To DD: While I see your point about there being no requirement to be a fact or a fiction blog, there is a continuity issue. I don’t go to the op-ed page looking for the day’s news. That’s just not how things are arranged. If you have a mommy blog detailing your day-to-day life, and it’s generally factual, then a post where the exact truth is exaggerated or the story is fabricated will confuse the reader. I guess that’s what made Twilight Zone so popular, but people knew what they were getting into. So, I guess I would say…be consistent so as not to cause bad feeling. I’m sure people were extraordinarily pissed off when they found out that the War of the Worlds radio broadcast was fiction.

To Mel: I think there are plenty of blogs used as weapons – political, social (like TMZ), and personal. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I just know that the possibility exists that someone is trying to make a point. I also know that what I do in my private life can affect my credibility – I learned this in my career. I doubt, however, that most people ever need to learn this lesson, although it is starting to become an issue with employers searching social networking sites. Regardless of whether this woman is telling the truth, she will probably be portrayed as a crazy woman from now on. She admits to panic attacks and emergency Xanax, and TSA essentially accuses her of lying and attention seeking. There is no good way to salvage her reputation here. I think that is the power of blogging that people don’t always consider.

21 wordgirl { 10.18.09 at 2:58 pm }

Now, this thread is interesting to me on a few levels — first there’s the element of freedom of speech — and I’m no lawyer so I can’t speak to all of the intricacies of how this applies to blogs — but I would imagine that what we’re really stung by when we uncover these falsehoods is that someone has broken a kind of social contract — Aurelia has said it much more eloquently than I in terms of the TSA situation — and while I certainly find the entire tone off-putting — I generally make a personal choice to avoid blogs whose voice reveals something I’m not willing to sit with — but I can’t say that we should expect from all blogs some rigorous disclosure of what blend of truth and lies it might contain.

This is where the second point of fascination comes in for me — the role or place that blogs might hold in the canon of the written word — do we hold blogs to the same standard that we might apply to ‘hard copy’ published prose? I used to teach a Creative Nonfiction course — and as person whose graduate degree was in fiction I was fascinated by the discourse constantly circling the entire genre of memoir — which, though it’s been around forever, really began to explode ten years ago or so. I knew the rules of fiction — those I understood — but how to reach back into one’s memory to replicate events that one has no way of truly corroborating? Do we constantly have to leave disclaimers, as Ivan Doig does at the beginning of his memoir” This House of Sky” — concerning the notorious mercurial nature of human memory — how this retelling may not be what another person remembers but it’s how we best imagine it happened….

Not to get totally off-track — because there are clear examples, like April Rose, of a blogger intentionally creating a false world and reaping the benefits of the community formed around it — but there is murkier territory when we start talking about the nature of truth in the blog as memoir form. I always told my students that to be totally forthright as a writer you should couch things subtly “I don’t remember exactly what passed between them but in my mind in the years since I’ve always believed it went somehow like this…”

I think the question of truth always hits me personally in part because I’ve blogged so much about my own family’s soap-opera like story — every bit of it the truth as I know it — and it was wrenching and cathartic and powerful to do it — and the idea of someone taking advantage of the kind spirit of most people out there really does sadden me — but too I understand this is a medium that has no true boundaries, no expectations — and that makes navigating these questions particularly challenging.

Sorry for being a comment hog.

22 Chickenpig { 10.18.09 at 3:00 pm }

I find the whole thing sickly interesting and entertaining. Aurelia is quite right, I think. You shouldn’t , and can’t legally, use a public forum like a blog or a book to directly malign an individual, but a company, school, or government agency is free game. Unless, of course, there is an actual court case that is pending, in which case I think legally you have to keep your mouth (or blog) shut until the case is finalized.

Didn’t Dooce do the same exact thing more or less against Maytag or some such washing machine company over a repair man providing inadequate service and a clothes washer being crappy? Didn’t she get rewarded for her actions with a free washer, which she donated to a shelter? As long as bloggers get bennies for sticking up for themselves, more and more are going to do the same. In a country where a congressman can shout at the President of the United States and call him a liar, how can we expect the average blogger to behave any better?

When it comes to the truth, there is your truth, my truth, and the facts…which can be interpreted in many different ways. As for what the “truth” is in any given situation…sometimes I think it is pretty self evident, and sometimes we really don’t have enough information to pass judgment. (which is how I feel about the whole TSA thing).

23 Avoiceofmyown { 10.18.09 at 7:01 pm }

When I 1st read your post I thought that TSA was some kind of Social Services or child protection agency. When I read her post I figured it out… I have never heard of this individual until today and she has lost all credability as a blogger in my eyes. When I read her tweets my first thought was “does she think she is Heather Armstrong?” I can see Chichenpig echoed my thoughts. My second thought is people will do anything to direct attetnion to themselves, even getting their six-year-old son to lie on national TV. (Ballon Boy Hoax) I wonder if I even get 2 regular readers on my blog, and I’d love regular readers but I’ll never stoop so low to get attention.

24 Avoiceofmyown { 10.18.09 at 9:03 pm }

I also wanted to say from the video of her child in the stroller he looked perfectly content playing with his feet. I have an 18 month old son and his feet are still a great amusement to him.

25 Lavender Luz { 10.18.09 at 10:54 pm }

In the post you reference, she says, “using my blog and my freedom of speech…”

My dad taught me that with every freedom comes responsibility. I wonder if her parents mentioned this to her? If she will mention it to her son?

26 electriclady { 10.20.09 at 12:51 pm }

@Aurelia, yes, she does have the right to say whatever she wants about the government, just like the “birthers” have every right to claim that there’s a vast conspiracy to cover up the “fact” that Obama isn’t really American. But if she does say it, then she had better be prepared to have other people question her about it. She’s not obligated to defend herself or prove anything, but if she wants to sue anyone who calls her a liar, then she’d better have proof that she’s telling the truth.

27 rob { 10.26.09 at 1:28 pm }

She accused someone of rape and blogs about it on her site but never pursued it. Is it possible she lied about this as well?


28 Janie { 11.15.09 at 11:12 pm }

Yes, she lied. Today’s young females are empowered and know about rape kits. If they are drugged and raped, when they wake up they are pissed, so they are going to make sure the rape kits will have enough evidence. They are NOT going to shower, that’s like washing away a conviction what with DNA testing and all. Your only chance of punishing the dude, and you’re going to shower cuz you feel icky? No.

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