The U.S. Agency for International Development spent years executing one of the most exhaustive underground marketing campaigns I’ve ever heard of.
Since 2010, the agency attempted to build a stripped down version of Twitter for Cuba. Their goal was to create civil unrest. It failed, but their idea was brilliant. I suggest reading the full AP version of the article I linked to if you want all the details, but it was a pretty exhaustive campaign designed to create a communication service that everyone wanted to use and then use it to influence opinion.
Imagine if Twitter was created in such a matter. People would have signed up for the service, shared their ideas, communicated and grown to rely on the network as a daily part of their life. For years, Twitter would have laid dormant as just a communication channel. When the time was right, it would strike. It would start seeding certain political messages and making sure these messages had a wider reach and carried more weight than the “normal” messages.
Certain politically-minded people in our country would tell you that it is happening, since the creators of Facebook and Twitter are associated with more liberal political tendencies. I don’t think it is, you see all sides of politics getting an equal say at the table on Twitter, but what if Twitter did weight liberal political opinions more and made sure their reach was wider?
I find this story to be an interesting combination of social media and espionage. Could people plugged into social media become the next-generation spy? Imagine a James Bond movie in 2015 where he foils an international plot designed to use Twitter to coordinate political unrest. I’d watch that.
This story also manages to shine a spotlight on underground marketing. There is so much effort put into making specific campaigns look natural, that we often don’t see there is an end goal and we are being manipulated.
Remember this the next time you sign up for something that is “free.”