You know, for all the familiar pitfalls you find in social media — the wildfire-like spreading of misinformation, the coarsening of empathy and good-faith conversation, the enabling of widespread harassment and verbal abuse — there are some things about it that are pretty damn cool. For example, the fact that you can get a previously-impossible glimpse into the hearts and minds of countless public figures, celebrities, and icons. And tweeting from Russia, a certain ex-NSA leaker proved just that on Wednesday. Edward Snowden loves cat photos, and that's one more bit of knowledge we've all got Twitter to thank for.
It's not the biggest news, sure. Who doesn't enjoy a good cat photo? Hard-hearted scoundrels, that's who. But it's a nice example of how social media opens up the softer, more casual side of people to public view, and that's a valuable thing. For a whole lot of Americans, Snowden's personality has for many years been entirely opaque, encouraging perceptions that he's little more than a walking, talking anti-government surveillance screed as opposed to a fully-formed human being with his own wants, desires, and sense of humor. But anyway, I've probably kept you waiting too long. You're just here to see which cat photo Snowden tweeted, right?
In fact, it was a photo of a follower's cat (below), taken a couple of weeks prior to the little guy's death. Other people have gotten in on the act, tweeting pictures of adorable cats, some of them sadly departed. It's a strange sight, people send along their cat photos to Edward Snowden, of all the public figures. But it's kind of beautiful, too.
Obviously, this feline fancy on Snowden's part fits him snugly into the broader culture of the Internet. All he needs now are a few tweets about his favorite Russian gastropubs, a couple of retweeted Clickhole articles, and at least one use of the word "bae," and he's golden.
Of course, it's also possible that the cat photo tweet was just intended as a helpful palate-cleanser, given some of the other, gravely serious topics Snowden regularly tweets about. Just hours prior to the cat photo tweet, he was using the platform to educate about the recent bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, known as Doctors Without Borders here in America) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, widely blamed on an airstrike by U.S./NATO coalition forces. Needless to say, he seems like a natural at the give-and-take of Twitter, so you can probably expect some more trenchant government criticism, hopefully with a side of light humor, coming your way very soon.