US Admits It Secretly Built Similar Twitter-Like Services For Lots Of Countries

from the because-usaid dept

Following the revelations that the US had secretly attempted to build a Twitter-like service in Cuba, the US government has now admitted that it has tried to do the same thing in a bunch of different countries, some with more success than others. According to the NY Times:
The United States built Twitter-like social media programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, like one in Cuba, that were aimed at encouraging open political discussion, Obama administration officials said Friday. But like the program in Cuba, which was widely ridiculed when it became public this month, the services in Pakistan and Afghanistan shut down after they ran out of money because the administration could not make them self-sustaining.

In all three cases, American officials appeared to lack a long-term strategy for the programs beyond providing money to start them.

Administration officials also said Friday that there had been similar programs in dozens of other countries, including a Yes Youth Can project in Kenya that was still active.
While you can see the appeal of better helping citizens in these countries communicate with each other, the secrecy concerning who is behind them is where it gets troubling. As the case in Cuba with ZunZuneo, we noted that this helps legitimize every crackpot theory about how various programs are really US government fronts.

In fact, as you read the details of these programs, many of them do appear to have been set up with perfectly noble intentions, to help people better communicate and share ideas. But having the US government behind them -- especially given all of the recent revelations about US surveillance -- completely undermines that intent. Furthermore, it really doesn't seem like any of these services have had much of an impact at all. Instead, in all of the cases where we've heard of social networking services having any impact, they're when citizens of a country adopt existing services, like Twitter and Facebook, rather than these specialized "local" services.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 5:55am

    I wonder if they had one in Ukraine.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 6:11am

    9/11 was just about the worst thing that could have happened. the destruction and the heartache as well as the immense loss of life in what were supposed to be 'times of peace' were enormous and i doubt if there will ever be a 100% recovery. even today, people are suffering the after effects in both mental and physical ways. however, i am pretty sure that sooner or later the security forces, either singularly or amalgamated and with or without the blessing of the government are going to piss someone off royally. i sure hope it doesn't happen, not only because of the effects yet again on the USA but also from the retaliation point of view. those who keep trying to condone the actions of those security forces in the mass surveillance of everyone everywhere have been so unsuccessful, from what i have read, in stopping any real threats (unlike the many that have been instigated by the FBI, just to keep the funding and make out they are stopping numerous terrorist attacks) they would have a field day chastising anyone and everyone who complained and got the surveillance stopped. they would make out a case that obviously they would have uncovered the 'plot' but were stopped from spying to keep the wishes of the people, so lost that chance. in fact they wouldn't have stopped the spying anyway and didn't stop any plot, but it sounds good! then the debate would start again, with only the people losing out, just like now, with no meaningful accomplishments to show for watching millions in order to try to catch one!

     

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  3.  
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    Guardian, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 6:27am

    twitter is not anonymous

    twitter is not anonymous

    twitter is not anonymous

     

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  4.  
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    Kal Zekdor (profile), Apr 28th, 2014 @ 6:57am

    Unlike Twitter

    But like the program in Cuba, which was widely ridiculed when it became public this month, the services in Pakistan and Afghanistan shut down after they ran out of money because the administration could not make them self-sustaining.


    Unlike Twitter, which is, uhh... Wait, how does twitter make money again?




    In all seriousness, though, IIRC the majority of Twitter's income is from selling API access to people doing broad scale social analytics. Even so, Twitter barely keeps above water. It's a business strategy that is nigh impossible to replicate until you hit critical mass, and even then it's a tightrope walk.

    It's no surprise that these programs failed to become self-sustaining.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 7:11am

    Instead, in all of the cases where we've heard of social networking services having any impact, they're when citizens of a country adopt existing services, like Twitter and Facebook, rather than these specialized "local" services.


    You know, I think one thing the government didn't realize when it tried to set up these services is that people don't want to use their computer to simply talk to people in their own country. They want to use their computer to talk to people all over the planet. One of the fun things about IRC, Usenet, and their more modern descendants is that it's easy to find yourself talking with someone on the other side of the planet. You don't get that with a service tailored to a specific country. So it should have been little surprise that people tended to gravitate towards services that gave them both the broader reach and the local one rather than pay much attention to the services that only provided the local one.

    Similarly the services with a global reach is what will provide people with new ideas and perspectives on their situation, and thus be more likely to inspire them to change things.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 7:20am

    Tip of the iceberg, I suspect

    Remember the "Arab spring"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Wally, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 7:20am

    I honestly think that even if some of these programs initially fail...they are still successful in raising the awareness that some countries actually try to oppress basic human rights. It's simply unfortunate that such countries now use our survalince scandal as propaganda...but I think the genuine intent of the program will eventually outweigh politics for the greater sense of good.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 7:26am

    Re:

    They do support RFE there and several election-related information activities have been used in the past. But this kind of activity doesn't seem to be as relevant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 8:04am

    We're allowed to stir your pot but if you try stirring ours we'll send over some drones and bomb you and your extended family all the way to your maker.
    Top bully of the modern era.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 28th, 2014 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    "It's simply unfortunate that such countries now use our survalince scandal as propaganda"

    Propaganda or not, the fears are very realistic. How can you trust a nation like ours who, when the left hand is claiming that we are supporting basic human right, violates (and defends violating!) basic human rights not only in the word at large but against ourselves?

    "I think the genuine intent of the program will eventually outweigh politics for the greater sense of good."

    How do we know what the "genuine intent" is? The reasonable supposition is that it's for spying.

     

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  11.  
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    do, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 11:32am

    Huh ?

    It is utterly idiotic to think that there can ever be good intentions in a program US state department initiates.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 11:33am

    Re: Tip of the iceberg, I suspect

    I highly doubt the U.S. government had much to do with the Arab Spring (or at least the Egyptian part of it). When the actions against Mubarak started, the U.S. government was very much pro-Mubarak, trying to reassure people that his government was "stable." It took them awhile to change their position and call for Mubarak to step down. This, unfortunately, gets frequently misremembered as the U.S. government being on the side of the protestors from the beginning.

     

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  13.  
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    Wally, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 11:52am

    Re: Re:

    It'd be useful to spy on those countries. We'd get a clear look at how people really feel vs what they are told to feel by their suppressive leaders. What establishes most of that trust is that the US gvt contracts and funds these projects rather than run them itself...

     

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  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 28th, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    How does that establish trust? That USAID contracts and funds the projects is a reason to distrust them, not the opposite.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 28th, 2014 @ 2:38pm

    "American officials appeared to lack a long-term strategy for the programs beyond providing money to start them."

    Just like the rest of America's post-WW2 foreign policy, then?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2014 @ 5:30pm

    Re:

    This, exactly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Jonas Caldwell, Sep 16th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    Spying on you

    Meanwhile, communications in the US suffer the screening of State Dept. and others.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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