The Fall of Internet Freedom: Meet the Company That Secretly Built ‘Cuban Twitter'

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The United States discreetly supported the creation of a website and SMS service that was, basically, a Cuban version of Twitter, the Associated Press reported. ZunZuneo, as it was called, permitted Cubans to broadcast short text messages to each other.

At its peak, ZunZuneo had 40,000 users. And what government agency made ZunZuneo? It wasn’t the Central Intelligence Agency. No, it was the US Agency for International Development, USAID, working with various private companies, including the DC for-profit contractor Creative Associates and a small, Denver-based startup, Mobile Accord. T

he company’s not in the discreet social network game anymore; now it surveys countries in the developing world by SMS. As I started piecing together Mobile Accord’s past -- and that of the State Department that encouraged and hired them -- I found that a project like ZunZuneo wasn’t out of the ordinary at all. As ludicrous as the phrase ‘fake Cuban Twitter’ might sound, projects like ZunZuneo were meant to be a major focus of US diplomacy. If it sounds like a risible plan, now -- as it does to some commentators and, apparently, at least one Democratic senator -- that only shows how much has changed since the Arab Spring was still blooming.

The story of ZunZuneo foreshadowed, too, developments that would come. Who did ZunZuneo benefit most of all, eventually? Cubacel: The Cuban government’s state-run mobile monopoly which owned the physical infrastructure through which ZunZuneo messages traveled. USAID, in trying to harass the Cuban government, wound up financially supporting it.

The Fall of Internet Freedom: Meet the Company That Secretly Built ‘Cuban Twitter'