Following Edward Snowden’s leak, social media was ablaze with liberals blaming GW Bush for signing the Patriot act, and conservatives blaming Obama for enforcing it. The partisan ambiguity attached to this incident precipitated, as a number of news sites pointed out, Michael Moore agreeing with Glenn Beck. The media doesn’t appear terribly sure of itself, with its heritage of covering partisan bickering with tiny sound bytes and red and blue team cheerleaders. Instead, the news outlets have been reduced to stalking like paparazzi. For the past few days, they’ve been probing Snowden’s background and current circumstances. They’ve been profiling him and interviewing everyone they can grab to predict “the leaker’s” fate. Early this morning came reports that Snowden was on the move, from Hong Kong to Moscow, en route to … “somewhere else… no… Cuba… no… Ecuador!”
Wikileaks, whose founder has already had some screen time as either the comic book villain or hero, intervened. An official from Ecuador tweeted confirmation that Snowden was in the process of requesting asylum, similar to the still-in-progress Julian Assange playbook. Think about that. Think about all of this. Social media is calling the shots here. From Wikileaks to NSA security concerns, social media moves more quickly and covers more thoroughly. It’s raw, of course. There are, of course, drawbacks to the platforms. Erroneous, superficial, or irrelevant details tend to spread like wildfire, and make up a thick layer of muck.
While the media stalks Snowden around the globe, serious questions about surveillance are being asked from the dark corners of the web. Those are the issues that affect every citizen. Like a burger connoisseur touring the slaughterhouse, it seems like portions of the public do not want to confront what they’ve known for years- that one way or another, we’re being watched. Alternatively, you’re fine with being watched, but want to know why some guy with a thumb drive can walk away with our secrets.
Will social media continue to set the agenda? I think in the very least, social media has afforded us democratic participation in the conversation, like never before. The situation is complex. The legal and sociopolitical issues are even more so. But we get to discuss it! How awesome is that? While the media and government continue tracking this guy to his destination, the rest of us have the opportunity to set the agenda.