Mealy Mouths

Why Edward Snowden Wins on Twitter

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The Newspeak dictionary is filling up. As of the last few days, it has acquired an Obama entry, "Modest Encroachment," meaning a tactful invasion of privacy, a James Clapper entry, "Least Untruthful Answer," meaning a tactful lie, and a David Brooks entry, "Unmediated Man," meaning, basically, a lonely truth teller who isn't concerned with tact. The appearance of these tortured formulations is as good a measure as any of Edward Snowden's cultural impact. Bold acts tend to bring forth euphemisms from the not bold, and those who put their asses on the line tend to make stammerers of those who covers theirs. This is why Snowdens's defenders have available to them words of surpassing bluntness such as "spying" and "phone records, while his detractors, when alluding to the very same ideas, must resort to the less forceful, confusingly futuristic "data mining" and "metadata." To the extent the conflict between the camps is carried out on Twitter, whose design rewards concision, I think I know who the winner will beat least on Twitter. On op-ed pages and in policy magazines, however, where muddiness flourishes and space is at less of a premium, the results of the debate will tilt the other way, toward the establishment side, I predict. In any case, keep a notepad at the ready and an eye out for the holy grail: a bureaucratic synonym for "privacy" that will make it seem less valuable and desirable and perhaps even slightly suspicious. "Unsharedness?" We'll see.

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