This just goes to show that a Twitter account is a basic prerequisite for any aspiring public figure these days, even if that public figure's going to be in prison for the next 30 years. One of the highest-profile leakers of confidential materials in American history just jumped into the social media fray, and she's raking in the followers at breakneck speed: Chelsea Manning sent out her first tweet on Friday, and she's already got over 6,000 followers and growing.
If you're at all plugged-into the American political scene, relating to national defense and state secrecy issues in particular, odds are you've heard of Manning. Back in 2010, she carried out one of the biggest confidential data leaks in U.S. history, securing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, as well as footage of several civilians (including two Reuters journalists) being wrongfully slain by a U.S. Apache helicopter in Iraq in 2007.
She ultimately handed these files off to Wikileaks, which became the center of international tumult, especially when it released the often-embarassing, sensitive diplomatic communiques. The consequences were steep for her — she was convicted under the Espionage Act, and sentenced to a 35-year prison term, throughout which she's also struggled with the military over its treatment of her gender transition. In late 2014, she filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the military to allow her hormone treatments, a demand they finally approved in February.
So far, Manning's sent just four tweets, announcing her arrival on Twitter and expressing her hope that her feed isn't "a one-way street/conversation." She also said that it's not very easy tweeting from prison, as she can only dispense messages through dictation via phone call. As detailed by The Guardian, this is a result of the terms of her imprisonment, as she's forbidden from personal iInternet access.
It goes without saying that Manning is a controversial figure. Even some left-wingers skeptical of state secrecy may take issue with what she did, and that can't be overlooked. But what's undeniable is that she's become a central figure in the history of American intelligence, a sort of proto-Edward Snowden (except, obviously, she's doing the time for her actions). She's spoken out on major geopolitical issues before, most notably in an op-ed for The Guardian, where she argued that ISIS should be left to its own devices in hopes that it burns itself out — an unorthodox and controversial view to say the least, and very well-articulated.
It'll be fascinating to see what Manning does with her new Twitter account, and whether we'll be getting more of her takes on the international news of the day. If you're looking to follow her, well, just type in "Chelsea Manning," or her handle, @xychelsea. Here's hoping she keeps it up, in spite of the inconvenience.
Image: Chelsea Manning/Twitter