US created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest

BBC reports that the US government created a phone based, Twitter-like company to be implemented in Cuba.  This application, originally presented to the Cuban people through a guise as “sports news updates,” was based out of Spain and the Cayman Islands to reroute information flow, hiding America’s development and involvement with the project.

After hooking users, the US planned to “introduce political messages in the hope of spurring the network’s users, especially younger Cubans, into dissent from their communist-run government.”

USAID spokesman Matt Herrick said – “That’s how you protect the practitioners and the public.”

It is interesting to note that the government believes it was protecting the rights of Cubans.  Is it freedom of speech if you’ve politically inspired the citizens in a certain direction?  It seems to me like this is a Cuban petrie dish, and American scientists, wanting to instigate freedom of speech, tampered the results by accidentally slipping a strain of American Interests into the experiment.

Herrick also said, “In hostile environments, we often take steps to protect the partners we’re working with on the ground. This is not unique to Cuba.”

Cubans certainly don’t have equal rights to the United States citizens. “Cubans were only permitted to own mobile phones in 2008.”  Just only, “last year, 137 public internet access points have been opened – for the whole island. But one hour online costs $4.50 (£2.70) – or almost a quarter of an average monthly state salary.” These infringements speech rights is troubling.  But, is a country truly liberated if political reform doesn’t come directly from its citizens?

Governments instigating sparks that could lead to coup d’etats sounds very dangerous to me. Think of how Russia invaded Crimea during political unrest, how they sponsored a succession referendum.  What if China saw signs to erode North Korea’s regime, and ‘freed’ its citizens by absorbing the country?

Is it ethical for us to allow our government to do these type of activities?

Food for thought.

5 Responses to US created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest

  1. And I thought that the Cold War was over. This is a very interesting and timely story as it seems relations between the U.S. and Russia are somewhat beginning to escalate to their Cold War levels. And now with the U.S. trying to get involved in Cuba and indirectly spur revolutions to topple their communist run government, it really does seem like history is repeating itself.

    I also find it interesting that a form of social media similar to Twitter was used to carry this seemingly covert operation out. It seems like social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, have become the biggest tools for spreading news and information during times of revolt. We saw this during the Arab Spring and recently in Turkey, where Twitter was shut down because wiretapped recording were released that damaged the reputation of certain government officials. I suppose this is because news from social media is more reliable in countries where revolts are happening because the state often controls the media anyway. It is very interesting to see this unpredictable role that social media has come to play.

    As far as the morality of the U.S. government implementing this operation in Cuba, it’s hard to say. I feel as though it’s more difficult to decide if something is moral when the action is carried out by a government that represents all of its citizens, some of whom may not agree with the action in question to begin with. However, if this project ultimately made Cubans happier because they had a new form of social media and felt more informed, I feel it was morally right to do so, although I do question our government’s somewhat selfish motives if they were indeed trying to pump American interests or ideals of freedom into the Cuban public.

  2. CameronSchmidt

    This is insane! This is the type of thing I would expect out of the Cold-War-era CIA, and yet it happened in the year 2008. I find it very hard to justify the ethicality of trying to secretly influence public opinion in order to incite rebellion. If such a plot was uncovered in the US, people would be outraged, and the culprits would almost certainly be criminally charged. One of the founding principles of the United States is that we are able to form our own public opinions through unrestricted (to a certain extent) discourse. Such a system relies on the ability of the public to not be subverted by other groups. Despite this, our government is doing this very thing to another society! If our government has no respect for the freedom of expression of the people of Cuba, it really makes one wonder if they care about the integrity of freedom of expression in their own country.

    I suppose the government officials who approved this program probably justify their action as some sort of defense against Cuba, but I can’t really see how they are a threat to us. As far as I know, Cuba hasn’t really been a threat to the United States since the Soviet Union collapsed.

  3. So I found this to be rather interesting and I would like to put another view on the table. Brazier asks if it is ethical for us to allowing our government to backdoor propaganda into another countries society. The answer to that question seems to be No, but like most things political, there is controversy and blurred lines.

    I would like to pose a slightly different, but most certainly related question. Is it ethical for us to allow oppressive governments to operate without some form of resistance from us? Us being the United States Government as a representation of it’s people.

    This question most definitely opens up an entirely new can of worms that deal with a wide variety of issues, but I will try to focus on the main point as opposed to tackling all the issues that arise.

    As an American I find myself believing that freedom is something that everyone should be able to experience. It is a basic right. I believe that governments should be a representation of the peoples wishes. When a government takes away that representation, I believe that as a American moral being, we have a duty to resist in some form or another, the oppressive government. The way our government chose to address Cuba’s Communist rule is through education delivered by a social network. Perhaps our government should have identified themselves in the app(obviously it would have resulted in the app being immediately shut down, but perhaps it would have been right). These Cubans have been living oppressed lives all their life and the fact that they may not even know they are being oppressed gives us the duty to enlighten them.

    I know that this is a vast oversimplification and that there are many issues at hand, however I believe this gives another perspective on the situation. A perspective that I believe justifies much of our foreign involvements.

    As Brazier said,

    “Food for thought”.

    • Is it ethical for us to allow oppressive governments to operate without some form of resistance from us?

      Indeed, this is a tough question. One justification for a hands-off approach to oppressive regimes is that intervention signals a sort of arrogance — the assumption that we know best.

      But I doubt this is a very strong justification for the hands-off approach in all cases. In some cases, it is very clear that a ruling power is oppressing and harming its citizens. (North Korea seems a good example.) If the happiness the oppressed people would gain by our intervention outweighs any unhappiness it would cause them or us, then a utilitarian might favor intervention. (Of course, a utilitarian will also look at the long term consequences of an interventionist policy. And these consequences might be unfavorable.)

      • North Korea sounds like it’s terrible. The book, “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West” illuminates the subject incredibly well, detailing the firsthand experience of Shin Dong-hyuk, who incredibly grew up within, and eventually escaped from, a prison camp.

        Here is an interview with the author who transcribed Shin’s experiences into the bio.

        How we can live so comfortably while so many injustices occur in North Korea is sickening, but I don’t think anyone has interests in starting a war with North Korea.

        South Korea is generally believed to want reunification, and it is commonly assumed that if they went into North Korea, the United States would back them. This begs the question of what China would do, as they’re seen as NK’s “big brother,” constantly watching over the country, rapping knuckles.
        Bringing these four democratic and communist countries head-to-head sounds like hell.

        Another point is that NK seems brainwashed. No one understands how many of its citizens actually believe “Kim Jong-il/un is a God.” Here‘s a good article about a girl who escaped NK with her parents, and even after making it to South Korea still thought Kim Jong-il could read her mind.

        How do you free a population in this mindset?