Should the NTSB Be Tweeting?

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As I mentioned in Sunday’s blog, the Asiana crash in San Francisco on Saturday was unusual for being unusual. There just aren’t many Part 121 crashes these days. But it’s unusual for another reason: the NTSB is making effective use of social media, specifically Twitter, to pass on snippets of information as they become available.

But hold on. Should they be doing this? After all, as pilots, we know that investigators need to work unhindered by public pressure and opinion and at a measured, methodical pace. In other words, in relative secrecy. Isn’t a Twitter feed the diametric opposite of this? Yes, it is and seeing the NTSB use it is a breath of fresh air in an age when government snooping and unnecessary secrecy have reached a disgusting crescendo. Seeing a government agency pull back the lid a little is, in my view, an altogether good thing.

So far, investigators have mainly Tweeted schedules and plans, answered questions and provided some key facts from data extracted from the digital recorders. Generally, this is the kind of thing they’ve released at press conferences in the past so all that’s really changed is the distribution method. Press conferences happen on a defined schedule and dump a bunch of information, Twitter streams randomly when the information becomes available and someone feels like pecking out 140 characters. The agency also Tweeted some interesting photos, including one depicting a jumbled mess of seats inside the cabin.

I suppose aviation people who are in a snit about this worry that somehow, the public shouldn’t have this information because it might…might what? Develop an informed opinion before the NTSB does? Go out on the internet and promulgate crackpot theories? Somehow get the jump on the process and sway the accident investigation for nefarious purposes as we so clearly established last week that they did in the TWA 800 investigation. (Note: Sarcasm warning light. Refer to checklist for resolution.) Or perhaps it’s just not, umm, dignified.

This is actually not the first time the NTSB has communicated via Twitter. They’ve been doing it for routine announcements and minor accidents for awhile. But this is the first major accident investigation the agency has had in a while so this is a first and I’m sensing it’s a bit of a trial balloon. Well, the balloon is flying. We should encourage the NTSB to continue if for no other reason than it shows the rest of the government how things should be done. Government in the sunshine is always preferable to the shadows.

Follow the stream here.

Comments (10)

Like Sgt. Friday said, "Just the facts, ma'am."
As long as they only disseminate factual information I see no harm in it; and like you said Paul sunshine is a good thing. But if they start postulating "What you all think about this theory?" and have public polls on it then they have gone too far. The NTSB itself needs to insulate itself from the pop media in order to do a fair job; but that's my opinion yours may vary.

Posted by: A Richie | July 8, 2013 1:32 PM    Report this comment

Years ago I got in trouble for telling the wrong big-wig "If you'd stop calling me on the damn phone I could get us back on the air a lot sooner!" Likely the NTSB feels the tweets will reduce the time spent dealing with the yammering mob.

Posted by: John Wilson | July 8, 2013 4:42 PM    Report this comment

What does a Government NTSB Twitter Agent make? Probably better than this kid, so my application is on its way. My tweet (nor more that 140 characters): Big POOBAH in XXXX Intl this AM. Checkitout ( link to accident report)and like us on Facebook! ;-)

Posted by: Jason Baker | July 9, 2013 5:09 AM    Report this comment

Sure. Why not? If the NTSB wants to stay relevant, tweet away.

Posted by: Unknown | July 9, 2013 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Characterizing a trickle of NTSB tweets as government transparency is charitable at best. For starters, this is information about a private airline operation and individuals, not data on a government entity or operation. Until the Justice Department starts tweeting updates on the NSA spying investigation, color me skeptical (is there even any investigation to tweet about?). If "government transparency" means more haphazard disclosures about the actions of private citizens, then I'd prefer a little more secrecy. Imagine if you were the subject of the investigation. Would you want piecemeal disclosures that don't tell the whole story stoking a media frenzy, or would you prefer a focused investigation that concludes with a complete and professional report?

Posted by: Andrew Pietila | July 10, 2013 12:30 AM    Report this comment

Andrew... your response makes way to much sense and must consequently be dismissed. :o)
Who needs a focused investigation if its later all deemed a coverup, biased or challenged by a bunch of entertainment amateurs. Lets just tweet until the cows come home from the fields and increase the text size of this comment feature, while we're at it.

Posted by: Jason Baker | July 10, 2013 2:09 AM    Report this comment

Somebody needed to say something! Granted I have never flown any thing heavier than a BAC1-11-200...however had I flown an approach 40kts slower and dangerously low I would have to expect a similar result as all 4 of the "pilots" aboard that 777. And that the ALPA has it's panties all in a wad is just too bad! And the excuses; first landing at SFO in type, no glideslope...come on man! A friend of mine (also retired driver) had a discussion this morning about the last few bad airline screw ups and have concluded that each of them was the result of just not attending to the basics...air speed and altitude just seems so obvious.

Posted by: william laatsch | July 10, 2013 11:39 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Billy Laatsch. Further, raw and configured data sources are readible available and should help improve accident prevention awareness; as an example the Flightaware descent profile comparison into SFO rwy 28L describes all in one image. ALPA should let all this play out, they are not practical, pilots need urgent safety and competency reminders. Unfortunately a bad example is a good way to emphasize basics. My reflection? AF447 and the Asiana flight crew have common bad traits.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | July 11, 2013 11:30 AM    Report this comment

I think that the information being provided by the NTSB is a good thing. Typically the media news readers don't have a clew about technical things and therefor make stupid comments. From what has been said so far, it would appear as if the three folks up front thought that the computers were set up correctly and therefor were just along for the ride. Did any of them actually eyeball the air speed and other instruments?

Posted by: Barry Livingston | July 11, 2013 1:10 PM    Report this comment

Personally I think that the NTSB tweeting factual information about ongoing investigations is a Good Thing - both for the NTSB and for the transportation sectors they monitor.

It's an outlet not only for factual information during investigations (and yes, by all means get that out to the public as quickly as possible!) but also for highlighting things like the NTSB's Most Wanted List.

Anything that calls attention to this sort of stuff is a Good thing. The best way to enhance safety is to get people thinking about it.

Posted by: Michael Graziano | July 15, 2013 2:39 PM    Report this comment

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