On Tuesday morning, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden announced that he had joined Twitter with a subtle joke invoking Verizon's tagline and NSA phone surveillance:
"Can you hear me now?" @snowden tweeted. Within 10 minutes, the verified Snowden account had attracted over 35,000 followers. As of now, he is only following one other account: @NSAgov, the National Security Agency's official Twitter account.
Update: Twitter created this graphic showing the response across the Twitter network.
When I interviewed Edward Snowden last week, I asked him why he wasn't tweeting or blogging. (After all, his girlfriend, who is also in Russia, has a blog.) He told me he had security concerns, because social networks could be used as way to infect his devices with malicious code.
"Exploit codes [could be embedded] into the transactions I’m receiving from a legitimate service and compromise the security of my devices," he said.
But he said he was working on solutions that would allow him to survive "getting owned." From the interview:
I’ve been working for a long time on improving that and creating set-ups that are more robust and survivable when you do get owned. Because inevitably someone in a high risk situation like me is going to get owned. There’s nobody good enough to block every attack.
How do you limit the damage? How do you recover in the wake of a compromise? I’ve made a lot of strides in that and am looking forward to, hopefully, participating [on social networks] in a more open and active manner in the near future.
On Friday, during an interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Startalk, Snowden said his Twitter handle was @snowden. At the time, that dormant account had a number of followers, covered national security, and was named "Jay Snowden." (Snowden's full name is Edward Joseph Snowden.)
Snowden's second tweet was directed at Tyson, asking whether exiles are welcome on Mars.
According to the Intercept, the @snowden handle had previously belonged to someone who hadn't tweeted in three years, so Twitter handed the account over to the exiled whistleblower.
Snowden has evidently figured out how to tweet without overly compromising his security.
Snowden, who is charged with espionage and theft for his NSA disclosures to journalists, became stuck in Russia in 2013 when the U.S. revoked his passport. His ability to join Twitter and air his views on the NSA debate, privacy and security to millions speaks to the way technology has changed the nature of exile. Global publishing platforms mean that a person's digital body is free to roam, even if his physical body isn't.
Disclosure: Snowden serves on the board of directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit headed by my partner.