It’s bigger than President Barack Obama. It’s bigger than Washington. It’s even bigger than Justin Bieber.
The National Security Agency has taken the Internet by storm, and this time, Internet users know it. Since news of a once-secret U.S. electronic surveillance program was first reported by the Guardian and the Washington Post last week, the NSA has been trending with the best of them.
NSA stories are not the most popular on news sites like Bloomberg Businessweek, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or National Public Radio, as Businessweek’s Bryant Urstadt reports.
On social media, though, the NSA is everywhere: “NSA” has been mentioned more in the past few days than either Obama or Bieber. Mentions of “NSA” peaked at about 454,000 on June 6, according to Topsy, a social media analysis company. Topsy reports “significant” tweets that contain links or have been retweeted.
Since revealing himself as the source of the leak yesterday, ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden has also become a popular topic of speculation and debate. CNN asked its 9 million Twitter followers yesterday whether Snowden is a hero or traitor, a question Fox News sent its 2.8 million followers two hours later.
Hero or traitor? Meet NSA leaker Edward Snowden: on.cnn.com/16WKMCa
— CNN (@CNN) June 10, 2013
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 10, 2013
As Buzzfeed pointed out, mentions of Snowden along with the word “hero” far outnumber mentions with the word “traitor.”
Yet taking this graph (or anything else online) at face value could be misleading. Plenty of tweets containing the word “hero” fall into this category:
— Jeffrey Toobin (@JeffreyToobin) June 10, 2013
Why we shouldn’t call Edward Snowden a hero just yet thebea.st/11aforU
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) June 10, 2013
Another corner of the Internet is also weighing in on the hero vs. traitor debate: 26,550 people have signed an electronic petition on the White House’s website demanding that Obama pardon Edward Snowden.
“Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs,” the petition reads. (Political Capital has more on that subject here.)
Not all the chatter is so serious. The Guardian, which first reported that the NSA has been collecting Verizon phone records, is having some fun with the Twitter buzz. The newspaper’s website compiled a much-shared slideshow of illustrations by Twitter user @darth of the hashtag #NSAKidsBooks:
— the wild darth™ (@darth) June 9, 2013
Buzzfeed also offered up these updated Verizon advertisements the morning after the news broke.
And the Tumblr “Obama is Checking Your Email” offers photos of Obama looking at computer screens.
While the NSA storm is about modern technology through and through, one ancient artifact has also been affected: the paperback. More specifically, the paperback edition of “1984,” the dystopian novel about a deceptive, all-knowing government that George Orwell wrote in 1949.
And speaking of relics, this clip from the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting” is making the rounds on Twitter.
“So why do you think I should work for the National Security Agency?” Matt Damon’s character asks.
“Well, you’d be working on the cutting edge,” the NSA guy replies. “You’d be exposed to the kind of technology that you wouldn’t see anywhere else because we’ve classified it.”