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US spy agency whistleblower Snowden draws crowd with Twitter debut

Snowden, the fugitive former National Security Agency contractor who leaked details about the US government’s massive surveillance programs, started a Twitter account on Tuesday from exile in Russia with a simple handle - @snowden.

world Updated: Sep 30, 2015 13:00 IST
Edward Snowden,NSA whistleblower,NSA contractor
File photo of Edward Snowden.(AFP)

Fugitive National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden surprised the social network by starting a Twitter account on Tuesday from exile in Russia.

“I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public,” said the profile on Twitter handle @snowden. Within half a day he attracted more than eight lakh followers, but he himself was following only one account -- his former employer NSA’s.

“Can you hear me now,” said his first tweet, a take-off on a cellphone provider television commercial, which was retweeted 25,000 times within an hour.

Snowden fled the United States in May 2013 and has been living in Russia since being granted asylum there later that year. He faces espionage charges back home for leaking intelligence information, though his supporters across the world see him as a brave whistleblower.

Snowden in his tweets tried to position himself as a ‘citizen with a voice’ and not as a hero or a traitor as the two sides make him out to be.

His early tweets were in conversation with astrophysicist and radio talk-show host Neil deGrasse Tyson, who had encouraged Snowden to try Twitter during an interview on his show this month.

“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,” he tweeted in light hearted take on what he was going through.

He also took a dig at the NSA saying, “Meanwhile, a thousand people at Fort Meade just opened Twitter” before he wound up for the day.

Initial reaction on social media to Snowden was more positive than negative. Based on a Thomson Reuters proprietary algorithm that looked at Twitter posts mentioning Snowden or his official Twitter handle, there were about 1,109 positive tweets versus 156 negative, a ratio of about 7 to 1, within the first hour of his initial tweet. The counts were from a representative sample.

The user name @Snowden had already been claimed by someone who had not used it in three years. The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Snowden, said Twitter officials were contacted and agreed to turn over the handle to Snowden.

Watch | US whistleblower Snowden makes Twitter debut

First Published: Sep 30, 2015 08:39 IST