Edward Snowden, the whistleblower and fugitive who exposed the mass-surveillance practices at the National Security Agency, is now on Twitter, and he already has way more Twitter followers than the NSA.
His account, which has been verified by Twitter as authentic, isn’t hard to find: It’s @Snowden. His attorney, Ben Wizner, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that Snowden himself controls the account.
“Can you hear me now?” was his first tweet.
Snowden gained almost 300,000 followers in less than two hours after he tweeted his first message Tuesday morning – a cheeky swipe at his former employer, the NSA, whose account only has 76,000 followers. (The NSA is also the only Twitter account that Snowden follows.)
The NSA did not immediately respond to the Times’ request for comment about Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia to avoid espionage and theft charges in the U.S. related to his 2013 leaks about the NSA.
But Twitter’s interim CEO, Jack Dorsey, had a telling response to Snowden’s first tweet:
“Yes! Welcome to Twitter.” -@Jack
Dorsey’s welcome is not an outlier. Although Snowden is officially a wanted man in the eyes of the U.S. Justice Department, his voice has been repeatedly amplified by America’s most esteemed mass-media institutions.
After the Guardian and the Washington Post published a series of stories about NSA’s surveillance practices based on Snowden’s disclosures, judges awarded both outlets Pulitzer prizes.
After documentarian Laura Poitras created a film about Snowden’s leaks, “Citizenfour,” the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave her an Oscar for best documentary. Snowden’s story will also be featured in a major Hollywood movie, “Snowden,” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and directed by Oliver Stone.
Twitter, one of Silicon Valley’s most popular social-media companies, accommodated Snowden’s wish to join Twitter by clearing out an old account that had claimed the @Snowden handle but had not tweeted for three years, according to the Intercept.
A Twitter spokesman did not immediately respond to an interview request from the Times seeking more information about the company’s decision to give Snowden the blue “verified” checkmark given to public figures and celebrities.
Twitter’s policies forbid users from using the service “for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities,” which implies the company believes that Snowden using its service while avoiding prosecution doesn’t constitute a crime. (U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning also has a verified Twitter account, which is reportedly remotely operated by supporters who relay Manning’s messages from prison.)
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