Eberhard had some experience with mobile text donations: It was Mobile Accord’s first business. He had also long worked in mobile phones. In the early 2000s, his first company, which marketed ringtones, sold for millions.
Meanwhile in early 2010, according to the Associated Press, ZunZuneo had already launched, and USAID had experimented somewhat with using it to assemble political affiliation information about Cuban cell users.
But Creative Associates, its original contractor, had “decided that ZunZuneo was so popular [that it] wasn’t sophisticated enough to build, in effect, ‘a scaled down version of Twitter.’”
So, USAID hired Mobile Accord. In July, USAID flew Eberhard to Spain to talk about a “below the radar strategy,” according to the AP. It erected shell corporations to hide ZunZuneo’s U.S. ownership.
Mobile Accord, of course, had run a social network like this before. It had even run one for the U.S. government. While there isn't direct evidence, it seems likely that the software that powered Humari Awaz was similar to the software chosen by ZunZuneo.
Meanwhile, Eberhard had become a favorite guest of the U.S. government. In February 2010, he spoke in the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy there. In June 2010, he spoke at the U.S. government-backed Institute for Peace on mobile banking in Afghanistan. The next year, he spoke at the State Department’s tech conference and a State Department event in Tunisia.
It’s useful to return to Clinton’s speech at the Newseum to help understand why. The U.S., she said, had a responsibility to protect freedoms of expression and access on the Internet, a 21st-century extension of America’s history of protecting speech rights abroad. She cautioned that the Internet and other “new technologies” did not inherently radiate goodness, but that they could be useful, liberating tools if shaped by benevolent American power:
On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world's information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it.
Not only was such a strategy right for the U.S., she held, but it was smart, wise, efficient.
“[P]ursuing the freedoms I've talked about today is, I believe, the right thing to do,” she said. “But I also believe it's the smart thing to do. By advancing this agenda, we align our principles, our economic goals, and our strategic priorities.”
Freedom to connect as foreign policy: Not only true to the spirit of the First Amendment, but a job creator too.
How would the State Department go about these goals? Clinton pledged:
We are also supporting the development of new tools that enable citizens to exercise their rights of free expression by circumventing politically motivated censorship. We are providing funds to groups around the world to make sure that those tools get to the people who need them in local languages, and with the training they need to access the internet safely.
In January 2010, this was the avowed diplomatic program of the United States: to create and fund social network-like software in nations that censored their media. This was what 21st-century statecraft would look like.