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Ear to the Ground

U.S. Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Undermine Government

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Posted on Apr 3, 2014

Photo by flippinyank (CC BY 2.0)

The U.S. government used its multibillion-dollar overseas humanitarian arm to build and launch a social media network that could be used to spark off a “Cuban Spring” and overthrow the country’s communist government, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The U.S. Agency for International Development assembled contractors and hired executives—many of whom were kept in the dark about the program’s true purpose—to create a “byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account,” The Guardian reported. Capitalizing on the familiarity of Twitter, the program was branded ZunZuneo, slang for the sound a Cuban hummingbird makes. It would used cellphone text messaging to evade the Cuban government’s “strict control over information and its stranglehold restrictions over the internet.”

The Guardian reports:

Documents show the US government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAid document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”

At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the US government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes.

“There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” according to a 2010 memo from Mobile Accord, one of the project’s contractors. “This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission.”

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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