US & Canada

Best of Instagram: Kim K, Rihanna and... airport security?

Rihanna, JFK airport and Kim Kardashian (composite) Image copyright BBC/GETTY/REUTERS
Image caption The Transport Security Administration - an Instagram must, alongside Rihanna (left) and Kim Kardashian

Who's better on Instagram than Nasa, Madonna, Banksy and Beyonce?

In news that will come as something of a surprise to anyone who has crawled through security at JFK airport in New York, the answer, according to Rolling Stone, is the US Transport Security Administration (TSA).

Instagram is typically popular for beautiful images and celebrity shots.

But the TSA has amassed an army of followers sharing a different side to your holiday - snaps that probably wouldn't make it into your carefully curated "best of" album.

The TSA is the group of people who make you queue for ages at the airport so they can check your bags and nick your shampoo, usually when you're already running late for a flight.

But they do so for good reason.

Formed in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US, the TSA is tasked with securing and protecting US transportation systems.

So they do an important job. But can their Instagram account really be better than myriad stars of stage and screen - everyone, in fact, except a top three comprising Rihanna, National Geographic and Kim Kardashian?

"We ranked the TSA in the top five as we found it fascinating, entertaining and terrifying," Rolling Stone spokeswoman Kathryn Brenner told the Washington Post.

"It opened our eyes to what they have to deal with on a regular basis - from hatchets and brass knuckles to loaded handguns, live eels and a shocking number of batarangs [a bat-shaped throwing weapon].

"We really enjoy seeing airport life from their perspective," she said.

And so do more than half a million followers on Instagram.


Guns, knives and batarangs - shared by the TSA

Image copyright Instagram/TSA
Image caption Who wouldn't try and bring a "post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask" with them for their flight?
Image copyright Instagram/TSA
Image caption The TSA's Instagram account often documents firearms that have been confiscated from passengers attempting to board flights
Image copyright Instagram/TSA
Image caption It seems batarangs have to be taken from passengers more often than one might imagine
Image copyright Instagram/TSA
Image caption Make sure your brass knuckles are always checked into the hold

The man behind the account is Bob Burns, a 46-year-old self-described (with tongue possibly lodged in cheek) "social media savant".

He was recruited to work on the TSA's social media channels when it decided to launch a blog in 2008.

His posts for the TSA, typically images of weapons people have tried to bring with them on their flight or TSA dogs at work in airports across the US, are frequently accompanied by his own wry observations, as well as useful advice for travellers.

Image copyright Instagram/TSA
Image caption "Your pie can fly" - the TSA's Instagram page mixes useful advice with airport oddities.

"I think the account strikes a chord with people because until we started posting photos, many just assumed we were only finding small pocket knives and bottles of water," Burns told the BBC.

"People are gobsmacked right away from the number of firearms we discover alone - most of them loaded."

He said that every time items such as large knives or firearms are discovered, an incident report is generated and photographs are taken for the report. Burns has access to the reports and cherry-picks the items he thinks will generate most discussion.

And those items have included everything from a knife hidden inside an enchilada to a medieval mace.

"There have been plenty of scary items," he said.

"But this live grenade sticks out in my mind."

Image copyright Instagram/TSA
Image caption This live grenade was discovered in hand luggage at Los Angeles International airport

"When travellers come through TSA checkpoints, they only see a brief window of our operations," Burns said.

"Our Instagram account gives them an insider's view of TSA and leaves many appreciating the work our officers do."

By Chris Bell, BBC UGC and Social News team