Can You Tweet From Prison? Chelsea Manning & Others Have Definitely Found A Way
After being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking Army information to WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning isn't about to stop voicing her concerns just because she's been incarcerated. Despite being locked up, Manning created a new Twitter account on Thursday night, under the handle @xychelsea. So far, Manning has posted four tweets, explaining why she created an account and what she intends to do. Why does she say she made the account? According to her tweets, she wants to keep an open line of communication between herself and the outside world, even from within a federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. So how exactly does one go about tweeting from prison? As you might expect, it's not a simple task.
Manning tweeted on Friday that "tweeting from prison [requires] a lot of effort and using a voice phone to dictate #90sproblems." According to a staff attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union, Chase Strangio, Manning is not communicating through an ACLU lawyer, but rather through others close to her. Strangio told Politico:
She is committed to having a voice and engaging with the public and will try to be present on Twitter as much as she is able to connect with people on the outside.
As of now, it's unclear exactly who is helping Manning communicate, but one thing is clear: She's not the first convict to continue a social media presence from behind bars.
In 2013, Jodi Arias' friend told Nancy Grace that she had been managing a Twitter account for Arias while she was in prison for murder. Donovan Bering told HLN she was helping Arias "communicate" during her trial. The two talked on the phone, often late at night, to discuss what Arias wanted to say. Some of Bering and Arias' tweets seemed to criticize the proceedings during her trial. The media seized on one courtroom moment as an angry gesture — Arias seemed to display her middle finger once in March 2013. Bering said the gesture was unintentional, but she and Arias decided to tweet about it anyway, to feed the publicity. Bering told HLN:
The story on that, believe it or not, it was not done on purpose… None of us had even noticed until after getting home from court, so it was an after the fact angle.
Also in 2013, Andrew Auernheimer — also known as popular hacker "Weev" — was able to tweet from the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center while serving a sentence for exposing a security hole at AT&T. After it was discovered that he had been remotely tweeting from within the prison from his handle @rabite, Auernheimer was placed in solitary confinement. How did he pull it off? Auernheimer used a system called the Trust Fund Limited Computer System (TRULINCS) to send email to approved contacts. In the emails, he sent friends messages to be tweeted, and they posted the tweets for him. Since his release, Auernheimer has been even more vocal on Twitter about prisoners' rights.
And as far back as 2009, high-publicity prisoners have been using Twitter to maintain their connection with the outside world and stay relevant. Roger Avary, the Oscar winner who wrote Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino, was jailed for manslaughter for his role in a fatal car crash. Avary tweeted about the poor conditions he experienced in prison, but it is not known exactly how he managed to tweet: most posts were made via a regular browser, which would suggest he had regular connection to the Internet. Others were made through the app Twitterific. But Avary's posts could also have been circulating the classic way — with the help of a friend on the outside.