Over the past 5 days at least 16 flights have been disrupted following fake bomb threats posted on Twitter.
Airlines have been hit by a wave of tweets claiming that explosive devices have been placed onboard aircraft, provoking fresh concern over the security of our airspace and the industry’s vulnerability to pranksters.
Bart Jansen and Larry Copeland report in USA Today that the most recent threat concerned an American Airlines flight which landed safely in Chicago on Tuesday despite a Twitter threat, purportedly from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which claimed that a bomb was on board.
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Unprecedented number of hoax threats on Twitter
Glen Winn, former head of security at United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, is surprised by the sheer number of threats. “In terms of the quantity of threats we’re seeing now, you just haven’t seen it,” he said. Earlier on Tuesday a Twitter account called @RansomTheThug claimed that there was a bomb onboard another United Airlines flight, but the plane had already been grounded due to weather warnings.
Sometimes users misjudge their comments on social media, and not every tweeted threat is serious. Last year a Dutch girl threatened American Airlines as a joke, and later found herself charged with “posting a false or alarming announcement.”
“In the history of aviation sabotage, I don’t believe there’s ever been a threat called in where there’s actually been a bomb,” Douglas Laird, ex-security director at Northwest Airlines, said. However every threat is taken seriously and reported to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Twitter’s contingency plans and IP address tracking
Airlines evaluate the threat, and depending on its severity, can take action including diverting the aircraft to the nearest available airport where it can be searched by bomb dogs.
Threats left on Twitter leave behind an IP address which can be used to locate and identify the individual responsible for the post. The FBI has the capability to track down those who use Twitter and other social media accounts to post threats of any kind. People have been left wondering whether some threats could be written off as obvious hoaxes given the technology that law enforcement agencies possess.
Understandably airlines and law enforcement err on the side of caution when a threat comes in, be it via Twitter or any other source.