Edward Snowden isn’t just a hashtag anymore. The NSA whistleblower joined Twitter on Tuesday, using the @snowden Twitter handle.
Snowden, who has lived in Russia since turning over a trove of top-secret documents to reporters more than two years ago, has remained in the public eye thanks to frequent appearances and interviews using video links and sometimes even robots.
But joining the Twitterverse establishes him even more firmly as a major figure in the public discourse about surveillance and privacy that he jump-started in June 2013.
He recently engaged in a wide-ranging interview with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Part two of that interview was posted on Friday night, and in it, Tyson asked Snowden why he’s not on Twitter.
“You kind of need a Twitter handle. So like @Snowden, maybe? Is this something you might do?” Tyson asked.
“That sounds good, I think we’ve got to make it it happen,” Snowden replied.
“You and I will be Twitter buddies,” Snowden told Tyson. “Your followers will be: the Internet, me, and the NSA.”
A hero to some, a traitor to others, Snowden lives in Moscow, having been granted asylum there after U.S. authorities charged him with three felonies. Two of the charges are under the Espionage Act, a draconian 1917 statute that blocks defendants from explaining why what they did was justified. Snowden has said he would come back to the U.S. if he were granted a fair trial.
The @Snowden handle had been taken by someone who hadn’t used it in three years. So Twitter was contacted, and agreed to turn it over to Snowden himself.
According to Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner of the ACLU, Snowden himself will be controlling the account.
As of shortly after the launch of his new Twitter account, Snowden was only following one other account: @NSAGov. But @NSAGov was not — at least not officially — following him back.
Here is his first Tweet:
Can you hear me now?
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 29, 2015
UPDATE at 4:25 p.m. ET: Within four hours, Snowden had gained more than half a million followers, and tweeps around the world took notice:
Today @Snowden joined Twitter, and here's the world's response. pic.twitter.com/d6HgVvdRsf
— Twitter (@Twitter) September 29, 2015