The informational Q&A on Facebook Live hosted by two State Department bureaucrats expounding on the intricacies of traveling with children overseas would have hardly made a splash in any other year, perhaps.
But coming as it did in the midst of an emotional week riven by a heated discussion about the practice of separating children from parents who cross the border illegally and placing them in detention centers, the State Departments’ #FamilyTravelHacks Q&A did not quite go as planned.
“Ask us your questions in the comments discussion section of this event or in the comments of the live video,” The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs requested, saying that “Carl and Kim from Passport Services” would share lots of tips for family travel, “and we’ll do our best to answer them!”
But the questioning Tuesday quickly took an unexpected turn.
“What tips do you have to beat the heat for toddlers imprisoned in a concentration camp in Texas in 100+ degree heat?” wrote Matt Schneider. “And what type of baby pajamas will go best with a tin foil blanket?”
Then Ryan Healy: “What’s the best course of action in the event my kids and I ever got separated? Say, at a border? Who should I call in a case like that? I know, it’s extremely unlikely but you never know!”
Tony Kiritsis: “Why does it take so long to process an infant’s passport, but it takes so little time to process a child into a cage?”
Kristy Dallas Alley: “How do I know when it’s the right time to take my children and flee before we are put in the camps?”
Theresa Rowe: “What paperwork do I need to carry at all times to prove my children are mine and to make sure we are reunited when the U.S. government separates us? How long can I expect to wait for their return?”
Simone Farber: “This is astonishingly tone deaf given current events.”
Mary Wilcox: “Do the concentration camps allow for lactose intolerant children? Should I put it on a medalert bracelet”
Rebecca Lynn: “Should I buy Velcro shoes for my children now so that way I don’t have to remove their shoelaces when you decide to shove them in cages?”
Charlette Presnell Kremer: “What are some tips for getting enough sleep when traveling if the wails of terrified toddlers keeps me awake?”
Huong Lam: “Are the cages fully enclosed, even on top? My 2 yr old is getting really good at climbing chain link fences and this worries me.”
Stephanie Bateson: “I don’t want my kids to be put in a cage if they get separated from me whilst on holiday . . . Should I reconsider traveling to the U.S.?”
Beth Erickson: “What should we do if our children are forcibly separated from us by armed law enforcement?”
Carl and Kim pushed on, doling out practical information about applying for passports with the alacrity of workers with solid hourly pay rates and overtime policies, appearing to monitor the comments popping up on the live feed without answering any questions related to family separations, which have little to do with the State Department.
“The Facebook Q&A session is simply part of an ongoing public awareness campaign with tips and reminders for U.S. citizens applying for their U.S. passports - the targeted audience is young parents applying for their child’s first U.S. passport,” read a statement emailed by the State Department. “Our goal is to share practical tips for getting a U.S. passport for U.S. citizens and their families to prepare for summer vacations.”
Nonetheless, the Guardian theorized that the comments were taking a toll on Carl.
“While Kim seemed totally unperturbed by the poor timing of the live stream, Carl appeared to be affected by the constant comments about children being taken from their parents,” its reporter wrote. “By the end of the session, his every other word was ‘um’ and he kept repeating the fact he was ‘potentially driving across the border’ into Canada for a family vacation soon.”
The responses were a reflection of the intense emotional charge on social media generated by the practice of separating children from their parents, a result of the Trump administration’s new hard-line immigration practice. Images of, reports on and reactions to the practice have animated the digital realm in recent weeks.
And it was a reminder perhaps of the pitfalls of a poorly conceived or timed social media campaign. Asking for crowd input represents a particular risk. In 2014, for example, the NYPD asked people to share reflections of the department on social media along with the hashtag #MyNYPD. Instead, many people posted pictures that seemed to depict police overreach and brutality.
Another State Department social media campaign, also the Bureau of Consular Affairs, was widely ridiculed in 2016 as the Department sought to educate people about the perils of overseas travel during Spring Break.
“Not a ’10' in the U. S.? Then not a 10 overseas,” read one of the campaign’s tweets. “Beware of being lured into buying expensive drinks or worse - being robbed. #springbreakingbadly.”
The tweet was later deleted.