U.S. Built Secret ‘Cuban Twitter’

The Cold War will be won in a 140 characters or less. If you want to be fearful of disclosing too much private information on Facebook and Twitter, listen to this cautionary tale: The US secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to spy on their citizens and stir unrest. Their purpose was to snatch up their private data to use it for political purposes.

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In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government. 

The Cuban Twitter (called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet) lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers. The American spy network sought to evade Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet by introducing a very primitive social media platform—using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict restrictions and control of information. If this were the age of Che Guevara, he would have been defeated by what he hashtagged.

Documents show the U.S. 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.”

Imagine being a young Cuban, and finding out that your favorite mode of social media, ZunZuneo, was actually funded by the US government. If the US government could fool Cuba into using social media, for the purpose of spying, imagine what they are doing to their own citizens? (Well, not really imagine, the Snowden pretty much gave us the full scoop.) Let’s hope Zuckerberg doesn’t sign a pact with the devil…

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