/ 3 October 2015

Snowden gets a handle on Twitter

A poster in support of Edward Snowden during one of the many world wide protests after his revelations on the NSA's work.
A poster in support of Edward Snowden during one of the many world wide protests after his revelations on the NSA's work.

Since the first story of the United States’s National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of Verizon phone records broke in June 2013, the source of the information, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, has rarely been out of the public eye for long. He has been interviewed around the world and spoken via video link at numerous conferences.

Never though has he had a direct link with the public. Until now, that is, with Snowden’s thumping arrival on Twitter.

Within half an hour of the launch of his verified feed on Tuesday morning from his exile in Russia, Snowden had attracted more than 70 000 followers and counting. He will certainly effortlessly surpass the 72 000 followers enjoyed by the only Twitter feed that he himself is following so far – that of the NSA itself.

He publishes under the handle @Snowden. To acquire such an elegant moniker is quite an achievement in itself, given how relatively slow he is in coming to the Twitter party.

According to the online publication Intercept, the @Snowden handle had sat unused for three years and Twitter agreed to transfer its ownership to the NSA whistle-blower.

In addition to his burning passion for the perils of mass surveillance in the digital age, there is also a mischievous quality to Snowden’s Twitter feed. In his profile, he says: “I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public.”

His first two tweets also showed that cheeky side of him: The first is perhaps a quizzical entry, until you realise that “Can you hear me now?” is a jingle used frequently by Verizon in its TV adverts.

The second is directed at Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist, with whom he recently conducted a two-part interview in which DeGrasse Tyson asked him whether he would join Twitter and Snowden replied: “That sounds good. I think we’ve got to make it happen.”

In the second tweet, Snowden also alluded to his ongoing exile from the US where he continues to face espionage charges were he to return. Referring to this week’s stunning news about the discovery of water on Mars, he tweeted: “Do you think they check passports at the border? Asking for a friend.”

Snowden describes himself in his profile as a director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that supports journalism dedicated to accountability.

Trevor Timm, executive director of the foundation and a Guardian columnist, said the Twitter account would “really give him a direct line to the public where he can talk about issues of the day and reach what looks like being hundreds of thousands of people instantly”. – © Guardian News & Media 2015