Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who in 2013 became globally known after revealing secret US surveillance programs, has just officially joined Twitter. Here are his first two tweets, the second a shout-out to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:
Can you hear me now?— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 29, 2015
.@neiltyson Thanks for the welcome. And now we've got water on Mars! Do you think they check passports at the border? Asking for a friend.— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 29, 2015
Snowden's account is verified, and Twitter has confirmed the account is real. His headshot is a photo by the celebrated photographer Platon, from a 2014 photo shoot for Wired.
The telling line his Twitter bio
His Twitter bio includes this very Snowden line: "I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public."
I had to chuckle when I read that line, because it seems to capture not just how Snowden sees himself, but also how his supporters as well as detractors think about him.
Those who support and appreciate Snowden's leaks are likely to nod along with Snowden's implication that the government does not in fact work for the public, and that this fact necessitated Snowden's release of classified information so as to guard the public against their government. His critics are likely to fume at the implication that Snowden knows best what is in the public's interest. It is the whole debate over Snowden in a nutshell.
Cheekily, Snowden currently follows only one account: @NSAGov, the official NSA spokesperson account.
This is part of Snowden's effort to find his voice — a second act to his public life
Snowden was initially pretty quiet on his arrival in Moscow in June 2013, and he stayed that way for some time. He was new to the world stage, and had reason to keep quiet as he sought, and failed to get, asylum in some other country.
But even after his quest for asylum in Western Europe or Latin America ended and he settled into his new life in Russia, he remained pretty quiet, issuing relatively few public statements and granting only so many interviews.
There were signs that this was at least in part due to the Russian government's efforts to control Snowden and use him to its own ends — this is Putin's Russia, after all. And Snowden struggled to climb out from under Putin's shadow, to develop his own voice independent of his keeper and benefactor, who is after all a master of global messaging with a vast state media apparatus at his disposal.
Gradually, though, Snowden has been finding his voice. In the past year or so, he's been granting more interviews, and more frequently speaking out directly rather than through someone else. Joining Twitter appears to be part of that process, and part of his effort to find a second act for himself.
It wasn't always clear that he would succeed at that; there were indications, in much of 2014, that he might simply recede into Moscow. Now that he looks to be moving past that, it will be interesting to see what he does.