U.S. Aid Agency Reportedly Created 'Cuban Twitter' to Foment Dissent
A secret operation reportedly run by the U.S. Agency for International Development shows propaganda tools are alive and well on the Internet.The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), whose mission is to end poverty and create democratic societies, worked for more than two years to create a social network in Cuba that could act as a medium to bring together dissenting opinions with the goal of creating a "Cuban Spring," according to media reports. The operation, which allegedly did not include U.S. intelligence agencies, was managed through a number of shell companies to hide the involvement of the United States, according to an initial report in the Associated Press based on 1,000 pages of documents. The social network—named ZunZuneo, Cuban slang for a hummingbird's tweet—used cell-phone messaging to create the network and get around the Cuban government's restrictions on the Internet, according to a follow-up report in The Washington Post. "The Cuban users of the network, called ZunZuneo, were not aware it was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development, overseen by the State Department," the Associated Press article stated. "They also did not know that American contractors running the program were gathering personal data about them, in the hope that the information might be used someday for political purposes." The efforts in Cuba coincided with the use of social networks by dissidents in the Middle East to communicate among themselves. The degree to which Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have aided protesters in organizing the pro-democratic dissent that led to the "Arab Spring" is unclear. Yet some governments have sought to ban social networks as a way to prevent activities ranging from organized dissent among legitimate protestors to libelous claims by troublemakers hiding online. In the most recent case, Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan banned Twitter and YouTube, following leaks of alleged conversations between Erdogan, administration officials and corporate backers discussing financial fraud and a potential war with neighboring Syria.
USAID disputed that the purpose of the social network, which was started in 2009 and shuttered in 2012, was anything more than providing basic access to Cubans to express their opinions.