Whistleblower Edward Snowden took questions from the wider Twitterverse on Tuesday — via Periscope — and his responses were live-streamed to the world at large. The interviewer was Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, though the Q&A session was organized by a pro-Snowden organization, Pardon Snowden, which launched earlier this year to try and have him officially forgiven by the U.S. government.
The broadcast has thus far received more than 200,000 views, and can be replayed on the @PardonSnowden Twitter account, and on the desktop version of Periscope.
Edward Snowden is, of course, a somewhat polarizing figure. The ex-NSA contractor fled the U.S. three years ago with reams of secretive intelligence agency documents, files, and data. He’s been called a traitor as much as a whistleblower by the public, talking heads, and publications. Since then, he has revealed additional information-gathering schemes around the world, mainly through tools and tactics used by the NSA.
Snowden is living in exile in Russia, though he occasionally uses social networking and media tools to speak out to the wider world. This Q&A is just the latest in a series of public appearances, though it marks a rare instance when he allowed the public to ask him questions.
Twitter users were given the opportunity to submit their questions for Snowden using the “#AskSnowden” hashtag. Moderators went through the submissions, picking out the best ones to feed Dorsey, who in turn passed them along to Snowden.
During the course of the interview, Snowden was asked about his thoughts on a range of topics, including whether he thinks he’ll be handed over to the U.S. by Vladimir Putin’s government, his views on fake news, and the changes Twitter has been making to its service (about which he was notably frank).
On the subject of his extradition, Snowden remarked: “Will I be sent back to the U.S. and face a show trial and things like that? Is this gonna happen? I don’t know. Could it happen? Sure.” He continued: “Am I worried about it? Not really. I am very comfortable with the decision that I’ve made. I know I did the right thing. The institution of journalism believes I did the right thing.”
When quizzed by Dorsey about fake news, Snowden stated that he believes in “critical thinking” over any form of censorship of free speech. “The problem with fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee. But rather because we, as participants, as citizens, as users of these services, [need to] help each other,” Snowden said. “We point out what is fake, we point out what is true — the answer to bad speech is not censorship, the answer is more speech.”
As a Twitter user, he even spoke of the company’s recent updates to its platform, including its alterations to its core tweeting experience in order to allow users to do more with its 140-character limit. It’s safe to say that Dorsey may not have been thrilled with Snowden’s rather honest remarks about the service.
“Twitter has tried to expand what you can fit into tweets, which I think is an important effort, particularly when you talk about content,” said Snowden. “The fact that when you add a picture to a tweet, you lose 22 characters? That’s painful. Honestly, that’s terrible.”
He added: “But the problem is now, in many different clients — when people use mobile, when people use a browser this way or that way — suddenly the clicking-through actions don’t work anymore. It takes you out of the Twitter client, it takes you into the web browser. It breaks the user experience … I think that kind of unified, integrated experience really has an impact. People don’t like seeing the window change. … It should be in line, in stream.”
He even commented on the one feature many Twitter users have long been crying out for: the ability to edit tweets. “Surely, there’s got to be ways around this? Surely, there’s got to be a way that you can tag it as edited? If you click on the edit tab, you can see the previous versions of the tweets, and something like that,” suggested Snowden. “There’s got to be some ways to fix it out there. Just to correct things out there where people put a tweet out, it gets shared, and then they realize, ‘Oh it had a typo in it.'”
Snowden concluded by addressing Dorsey directly: “I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on Twitter,” he said. “You’ve probably got better ideas than I do.”
The Pardon Snowden organization is hoping the whistleblower’s latest series of appearances will help drum up interest in its cause. It recently announced that Mark Ruffalo had joined the ranks of celebrities asking for President Barack Obama to pardon Snowden before he leaves office early next year.
The group is also encouraging the general public to “take action,” by sending a prewritten correspondence to the White House, in accordance with partner organization Amnesty International.
Updated 12-13-2016 by Saqib Shah: Added info about the discussion between Snowden and Dorsey
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