Is Social Media a New Foreign Policy Tool?

Last week the Associated Press published findings about a now defunct social media platform, called ZunZuneo, designed to undermine the Cuban government. ZunZuneo was created by two private contractors: Creative Associates International (CAI) from Washington DC and the Denver-based company Mobile Accord. Both companies have a prior history of undertaking contracts for U.S. government democracy initiatives in developing countries. The AP reporters also uncovered details showing that funding for ZunZuneo was provided by USAID. 

The USAID has vehemently defended the program. The head of USAID told Congress,  “Working on creating platforms to improve communication in Cuba and in many other parts of the world is a core part of what USAID has done for some time and continues to do.” However, the AP article quotes USAID documents that specifically say ZunZuneo was created to “push (Cuba) out of a stalemate through tactical and temporary initiatives, and get the transition process going again.”

Supporters of the project noted the important role that social media has played in politics across the world, explaining how “text messaging had mobilized smart mobs and political uprisings in Moldova and the Philippines, among others.” The AP article also mentioned Iran and the fact that “USAID noted social media’s role following the disputed election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 — and saw it as an important foreign policy tool.” As more and more of the world’s population is connecting to social media everyday, its not surprising to see it being used by governments and organizations to instigate and support political change.

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