If you’re interested in covertly persuading citizens to overthrow their government, apparently creating a phony Twitter-like social network isn’t the best approach. That’s exactly what happened in the summer of 2010 with the launch of ZunZuneo, a text-based social network secretly designed to feed political propaganda to users.
ZunZuneo – slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet and a sly nod at Twitter – launched with the plan of building its subscriber base via non-controversial content like sports scores, music and weather updates. Text messaging was selected as the method of communication to circumvent Cuba’s strict control of information and the Internet.
The hope was that, once the program gained hundreds of thousands of users, those in charge would introduce political content with the hopes of creating “smart mobs” – mass gatherings that they hoped would lead to the renegotiation of the balance of power between the state and society.
The problem, however, was that the program only ever reached 40,000 Cuban users – a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of organizers they had hoped for. That, and the money ran out. And just as oddly as the project had started, it disappeared.
So who exactly was behind the movement? You’re probably thinking the CIA or some other covert organization but it was actually USAid, an organization that claims to provide economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world. In their corner was an agency called Creative Associates International, or CAI (sounds an awful lot like CIA, no?). Make of that what you will.