14ymedio, Madrid, 25 May 2023 — Cuba’s parliamentary deputies will predictably approve this Thursday the Social Communication Law, a rule that has had up to 34 versions and that in the last and definitive one now formally penalizes the mere interaction of users on social networks. Beyond the criminalization — even greater — to which independent journalists and the press are exposed, any Internet user will feel more insecure when the law enters into force.
Chapter IV, which addresses social communication in cyberspace, has undergone an important modification since the first versions of the law, published in July 2022. In this section, Article 51 provides that the people who are subject to the law (everyone, as specified in article 2) must “answer for the contents that they generate, select, modify, interact with and publish.”
In practice, it will be enough to make a favorable comment or “like” something that is considered to have the “objective of subverting the constitutional order” or “instigating terrorism and cyberwar” to contravene the law, although it is unknown what the penalty will be. The sanctions are still to be developed, but the document anticipates that the “administrative or judicial” route will be applied, as appropriate.
To date, there have been several cases of people who have been investigated or called to answer and even disciplinary measures in the academic or labor sphere for interactions on social networks, but there was no specific law that classified their actions as a crime or misdemeanor.
Article 51 contains a no less disturbing section, by asking to “implement and inform users about self-regulatory procedures that avoid publications that violate the provisions of the Constitution, this Law and other normative provisions on this subject,” from which it follows that citizens will also be told what they can and cannot share, applaud or dislike on their social networks.
This Wednesday, in the debate prior to the approval of the rule, the deputies reflected on the importance of having a Communication Law that goes beyond the traditional media and professionals involved in the information process.
Deputy Rosa Miriam Elizalde said that “an anthropological change is taking place due to the emergence of new communities, with new languages,” so a regulation is needed that “for many is even a national security law, because we are talking about national legislation that has to deal with a transnational infrastructure.”
The intention is to intervene in a cyberspace that escapes national legislation. “When you access Facebook,” Elizalde pointed out, “you accept everything because you want to communicate with your uncle, your cousin. The regulation is not national but is transnational, international, and the servers are physically somewhere else.”
In her words you sense that the new law is intended to regulate the user rather than the network.
Most countries are being forced to adapt their rules to what happens on social networks, penalizing criminal behavior for violating some fundamental rights. In the Cuban case, however, the fact of sharing news that may be absolutely true but the regime considers a threat to its stability will qualify as a crime.
This will predictably penalize the dissemination of protests, an activity that has already been pointed out by the official press and the courts themselves as reprehensible for trying to “destabilize the social order.” It could also be considered potentially harmful to share or interact with the publication of photographs or messages that reveal shortcomings of the State (which the regime considers to be trying to denigrate the Revolution), as has happened with hospitals, schools and other facilities in poor conditions.
Also, in the same sense, “criticism of senior officials, defaming, slandering or insulting the people, organs, agencies and entities of the State, political, mass and social organizations of the country” is expressly prohibited.
The authorities have also lost control of the information considered “crime news.” Murders, robberies with violence and femicides are more than ever within the reach of the population thanks to the dissemination they have achieved through social networks, a reality that has brought to the end the image of a model country with the social peace that supposedly existed when the police censored the crime statistics. This type of content could also be among those that the regime considers contrary to the interests of the State.
The bill also prohibits other internationally criminalized attitudes, such as harassment, humiliation, racism, homophobia or the promotion of hate speech, although this is on paper. We will have to see if its application is, once again, arbitrary and motivated by ideological issues.
“This is the only way to reduce the deep asymmetry that nation states have in the face of the brutal economic power of these large platforms, mostly North American,” the deputy said.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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