Cuban Independent Journalism in the Face of the Uncertain Future of Twitter

It is not known what will happen to Twitter but it is easy to predict what will happen to the thousands of Cuban users if its fluttering stops: we will be more gagged. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2022 — The winds of uncertainty are blowing over Twitter: massive layoffs, an attempt to charge for account verification, and inflammatory statements by its new owner, Elon Musk, have fueled doubts about the future of this social network. In Cuba, questions are also growing about a tool that is vital for activism and independent journalism.

The crisis that the blue bird is going through comes at a very sensitive moment for the Island. There are only a few days left before a new Penal Code comes into force that will further restrict freedom of expression and the exercise of the press. By the time this new legal code is in force, the need to denounce repressive excesses will multiply and Twitter’s 280-character postings is the main channel for these demands to reach the largest number of international organizations, media outlets, and associations that watch over human rights.

To the extent that the social network seems to be about to become a thing of the past, the scope of these complaints will diminish and the visibility of civil society actors on the Island will also decrease. In addition, the insecurity surrounding the San Francisco company emboldens the Cuban regime, which in recent months has suffered several virtual defeats with the cancellation of its official accounts that spread ideological propaganda and attacks against dissidents.

Twitter has always been a thorn in the side of Castroism, which saw from the beginning the threat posed by a technology that offered citizens the ability to publish immediately, even without the need for internet, as it was used widely on the Island through mobile phone text-only messages. After a time of reticence against this social network, the regime ended up opening its own accounts assigned to institutions and party leaders, but it has never been able to hide its displeasure towards the tool. It has always had a dislike for this restless bird.

Now, spokesmen for the regime rush to pluck the wounded bird, boasting that they always foresaw its fall from grace. The instability that has gripped this microblogging service sounds like music to their authoritarian ears and they are already fantasizing about the company’s closing and the end of the loudspeaker that it has represented for the opposition and independent Cuban media. Unable to impose their narrative online, they are anxiously waiting for the voices of Cuban citizens to stop being heard.

Twitter has a great responsibility towards those of us who live on this Island. For us, to keep “twittering” about our reality is not a matter of trends, entertainment, puerile conversations or the desire to kill boredom. A tweet can make the difference between being on one side or the other of prison bars, it is capable of stopping a repressive act, and revealing the coercive practices of the political police. In our case, it is not a channel to display our morning cup of coffee or our feet sunbathing in front of a pool, but a very important layer of the protective shield that we need so much.

It is not known what will happen to Twitter, but it is easy to predict what will happen to the thousands of Cuban users of that network if its fluttering stops: we will be more gagged and surrounded by greater dangers.


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