The puppet-masters.

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This week, news broke about the Cuban Twitter program, something that brings together the worlds of government, resistance, dissidents and memories of the Cold War. For those of you who haven’t seen this story, it’s incredibly interesting. In a nutshell, the US government has been funding, through the organization USAid, “a program intended to encourage ‘flash mobs’ in Cuba, emulating social media-based protests that had been occurring organically in countries such as Iran, the Philippines and Moldova.”

That’s right. The US government was funding something in the hopes that a movement would happen from the Twitter-ing. Of course, there are denials that it was ever covert and that they would have gladly told you about it if you had just asked. From White House press secretary Jay Carney,  he “denied suggestions the programme was ‘under the table’ or had ‘roped in’ unsuspecting Cubans.” You pick your side on that one. That’s not what made me the most interested about this story.

What is interesting is the issue that this causes for actual dissidents in Cuba. Yoani Sanchez is a prominent Cuban dissident in her own right, and now is battling the perception from her followers in her network that she is funded by the US government. Not exactly the street cred that you want for your resistance campaign, right?

It made me think about the notion of networked resistance in a new way – one where the resistance isn’t organic but created by another government. How often do hoaxes about celebrity deaths make their way through the blogosphere without question, until they are debunked the next day? Often, people are willing to believe what they read on Twitter without much of a fact-check. From Jodi Dean:

Our attention isn’t boundless. Our time is finite—even as we try to extract value out of every second (we don’t have time to waste). We cannot respond to every utterance, click on every link, read every post. We have to choose even as the possibility of something else, something wonderful, lures us to search and linger.

We read the juiciest headline, the most clicked story on our Google Reader, the story that has the biggest catch to it. And why not? We don’t have the time, as Dean says, to read everything. So, if there is a group with lots of resources (human and financial), can’t they produce content that they know we will click on? And couldn’t this be the information that they want us to read?

It made me question how many stories I have read about revolutions and movements and protests – and wonder how many might have been funded by someone that I didn’t expect. With the rise of Web 2.0, this opportunity exists even more, since the revolution is taking place behind a screen. They don’t even need to get bodies necessarily, just algorithms and pre-written content that pushes the message they want to be absorbed. It’s not like heads of state have been above this – history shows up time and again that governments can be involved in the overthrow and installation of new leaders.

Cynical, to be sure. But since it’s the last week, I thought I would ask: can you be sure that your revolution is legitimate? How?

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2 thoughts on “The puppet-masters.

  1. This was a really interesting story. Thank you for your take on it. The part that gets me is that this revelation actually undermines some of the work that has been done without US government intervention. I suppose that there really is no way to tell how much of an impact the US program had on some of the movements that were already in place before it began.

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