Edward Snowden just joined Twitter. He's already creating a stir
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden only joined the social network Tuesday, but already has more than a million followers.
Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras/The Guardian/AP/File
With five simple words, Edward Snowden has re-engaged with his allies and his enemies, revived the issue of domestic surveillance, and quite possibly, injected the issue of mass government surveillance into the 2016 presidential campaign conversation.
The fugitive former US intelligence contractor who revealed the scope of National Security Agency surveillance by leaking a trove of classified documents in 2013 joined Twitter Tuesday with this simple tweet:
It was, of course, a reference to an old television commercial for Verizon Wireless, in which a technician tested the range of the company's wireless network. Among the revelations Mr. Snowden uncovered in his controversial leak was a secret court order ordering Verizon to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its system.
Snowden's Twitter account – which amassed 400,000 followers within four hours of his first tweet and now has over 1 million – promises more such gems.
His profile says that he "used to work for the government. Now I work for the public."
And his background wallpaper is composed of photos of front page news articles stating that the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals had found the bulk collection of Americans' phone data was illegal.
But perhaps the most noteworthy detail of Snowden's new account is that he's only following one account: the National Security Agency.
Within his first hours on Twitter, Snowden entertained followers with an interesting exchange with American astrophysicist and television host Neil de Grasse Tyson, who welcomed the controversial figure to Twitter.
As the exchange, which displayed Snowden's humor and may have served to attract more followers, showed, joining Twitter was a smart move for the former intelligence contractor.
On Twitter, Snowden can communicate with the public directly, on his own terms, at his own discretion, without the added layer of a newspaper editor or network executive.
It may also be an effort to revive support as his lawyers are working to return the fugitive former contractor safely to the United States.
And, as NPR pointed out, Snowden joined Twitter just in time to inject the forgotten issue of domestic surveillance into the 2016 presidential campaign.
"Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency's vast web of domestic surveillance made international headlines in 2013. But until now, the issue has largely been dormant in the presidential campaign," reports NPR. "But it's already clear that Twitter will provide Snowden an enormous platform, should he decide to wade into the campaign's policy debates from Moscow."
He's already gotten the attention of at least one presidential contender, former New York Gov. George Pataki.
It's an unsurprising response to a man whom as many consider a traitor as a hero of civil liberties.
Snowden was a government contractor when he leaked details about Internet and telephone surveillance of tens of millions of Americans by the NSA in 2013. The massive leak – it is believed Snowden downloaded 1.7 million documents – set off a global firestorm.
He was censured by government leaders and many others as a traitor and faces up to 30 years in prison in the US. But his actions also revealed the NSA's secret surveillance programs to the public, and sparked a congressional debate that ultimately led to the USA Freedom Act, which will end the bulk collection of Americans' phone data.