The U.S. Allegedly Created A “Cuban Twitter” To Stir Dissent

The Associated Press reports that in 2010 the U.S. launched ZunZuneo, “a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.”

The U.S. Allegedly Created A “Cuban Twitter” To Stir Dissent
[Image: Flickr user Edmondo Gnerre]

Twitter is the social network of choice for toppling oppressive government regimes. And now, in what seems like a plot line from a future Hollywood blockbuster, the Associated Press reports the U.S. government conspired on “a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.”


In other words, the United States allegedly set out to build and install a “Cuban Twitter” to skirt the government’s vice-like grip over digital media.

According to internal documents obtained by the AP, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, worked with a cadre of high-tech contractors out of Central America in 2010. Their mission, according to the report, was to “launch a messaging network that would reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans.” The new, Twitter-like social network would be called ZunZuneo, which is Cuban slang for the sound a hummingbird makes when it tweets. The AP reports:

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 report suggests that to scale the project and accumulate subscribers, it would post news messages about “soccer, music, and hurricane updates.” Then, once enough users were in place, it would inject politically charged content and, if all proceeded according to plan, watch the dominoes fall:

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.”

One of the memos from Mobile Accord, one of ZunZuneo’s contractors, noted there was to be “absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” which would be “absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service.”

It is unclear how successful the program has been to this point; on Facebook, for example, a page for ZunZuneo has just 300 Likes. According to the AP, some 40,000 Cubans were using ZunZuneo at the social network’s apex. You can read the whole story here.

About the author

Chris is a staff writer at Fast Company, where he covers business and tech. He has also written for The Week, TIME, Men's Journal, The Atlantic, and more.