Stop your embarrassing fawning over Edward Snowden's Twitter feed

Why on Earth is this a thing?

(Image credit: Illustration by Lauren Hansen | Image courtesy Twitter, DeviantArt/vDq)

On Tuesday, Edward Snowden joined Twitter. The internet almost immediately lost its collective mind. This ought to be hugely embarrassing for all involved.

Consider this exchange, chosen almost at random, that both sharply mocks and glibly stokes the media's slobbering freakout over @Snowden. Jared Keller, deputy editor at Maxim, playacted the now-stock character of the media peon firing off clickbait.

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Mic senior editor Scott Bixby, using media shorthand for text to be filled in later, joked back in response, followed by Keller offering another headline:

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If that all sounds more than a bit too jaded and cute, consider the hot Snowden take posted in a jiffy by the venerable Time magazine: "He is only following one other account: the National Security Agency (@NSAGov) — which is hilarious, given he is famous for leaking documents that revealed the reach of the NSA's surveillance program." Throw open your living room window. Can't you hear the peals of laughter?

It's not hilarious. It's hardly even news. But boy, is it content.

Snowden's debut on Twitter is just another reminder of how little choice we have but to ruefully embrace — and try to profit from — the absurd and pathetic quality of life leaching out of the internet and into the rest of reality.

And what of Snowden himself? Whether you think some of Snowden's document-leaking actions were heroic or traitorous, at least they carried the weight of history. Their consequences had the whiff of a certain kind of greatness. But there's no grandeur in performing one's modesty on the internet. This is just embarrassing:

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Social-media Snowden: just one more celebrity saying vapid things into a megaphone.

Social media might not bring the worst out in the actual mere citizens with a voice. But day in and day out, because we're all included, it brings out things we're all often better off not hearing, not saying, and not caring about. Perhaps that's a price worth paying if it also strengthens our relationships with our heroes. But on Twitter and elsewhere, it sure looks like it only makes us falsely feel like we're closer to them. That experience is toxic to heroes, eroding the special dignity that keeps them a distance apart.

And in a world without heroes, we're reduced to the childish celebration of a rotating, nearly random cast of interchangeable "influencers." Quite the role model for our times, the surveillance-smashing Snowden fled from one depressing machine only to nestle into another.

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James Poulos

James Poulos is a contributing editor at National Affairs and the author of The Art of Being Free, out January 17 from St. Martin's Press. He has written on freedom and the politics of the future for publications ranging from The Federalist to Foreign Policy and from Good to Vice. He fronts the band Night Years in Los Angeles, where he lives with his son.