One of the world's most wanted men is on the lam ... and tweeting about it. At least that is what one satirist would have us believe.
Various influential types in the digital-privacy space have declared @eJosephSnowden a fake—including Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who won Snowden's trust and broke the PRISM story last month. Yet the satirical account has 20,000-plus followers, which suggests it still fooling the masses.
I support @EJosephSnowden. A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom. You are a World Hero.— Alexa Núñez (@alexsn94) July 3, 2013
Journalists, teachers, authors, celebrities like Adam Baldwin and Roseanne Barr, and even John McAfee have tweeted at the handle as if it is real. (Twitter's interface, which suggests accounts based on name matches without prompting a closer look at mentioned accounts, may be at least partly at fault here.)
The Verge law and privacy journalist Matt Stroud follows the account, as does esteemed law professor Lawrence Lessig. To be fair, they may be curious or entertained, rather than duped. The account does tweet news and opinion someone like Snowden would share, which is done by design. Other tweets, however, are clearly inflammatory. Take this tweet from last week, for example:
Why don't you peasant trash get it? Brad's a fag, Julian's raping everything that moves, Ellsberg is insane, and Glenn Greenwald sells porn!— Edward Snowden (@EJosephSnowden) June 29, 2013
That was likely a piece of Swiftian satire, meant to mock critical coverage of Greenwald, Bradley Manning, and WikiLeaks figure Julian Assange. Yet it managed to fool and anger a few people, including one woman in Canada who took issue with it:
So who is @EJosephSnowden?
The account is actually controlled by a writer at the Internet Chronicle, a site which mixes the obscene satire like Encyclopedia Dramatica with the fake-news coverage of The Onion to cover topics of interest to hackers and Internet-rights activists.
Going by the name "Ed Snowden," in a blog post last month about the twitter account titled "SNOW JOB: Being Edward Snowden," the account holder writes that he was inspired by the "too-impulsive media environment" in creating the account.
"Too-impulsive media environment" may be the wrong way to describe this Twitter fascination.
"To anyone who understood the implications of Snowden’s claims, the very existence of a Twitter account at all should have seemed impossible and thereby ironic," writes Ed Snowden, who describes the tweets themselves as a "cartoonishly radical caricature of the e-dissident."
A case of people seeing what they want to see? Sure.
But one detail doesn't square with this version of events. The account has been tweeting since 2011, so if it's a fake, it was one created long before Snowden leaked NSA documents and outed himself. The Twitter account used to operate under a different name and tweeted material related to the Internet Chronicle. That explains all the older tweets, pre-PRISM scandal, comprised almost entirely of links to articles on the satire site, like this one about Gawker writer Adrian Chen dying in a car crash. And then there is this one, which is oddly pertinent even with the name change: