Rumors on Social Networks in Cuba Tend to be True

Many times rumors posted online end up being confirmed by independent media or by the authorities themselves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 March 13, 2023 — Since the end of 2020, attacks on freedom of expression have increased, and access to information in the country’s online space has been reduced. The Government blocks social networks and independent media, interrupts mobile data connections and resorts to fake profiles on social networks for its disinformation campaigns, which consist of altering public debate and introducing other topics through the massive and aggressive sending of tweets and retweets.

Online propaganda in the country is increasingly becoming an information control tool to silence independent voices and spread disinformation and erroneous information. The control of technologies and social networks provides the Government of the Island with a powerful tool to shape public debates and disseminate information online, while monitoring, censoring and restricting digital public spaces.

14ymedio and Yucabyte collaborate with the aim of collecting and analyzing the information and rumors shared online by the population and the Government of Cuba, to better understand the online space and how it is affected by the different actors. The collection of information and rumors online is not exhaustive; it reflects only a part of the Cuban online space. During this time of collection, 14ymedio and Yucabyte have noticed that many times rumors shared in the online space end up being confirmed by the independent media or by the authorities themselves, but that in the beginning they are just that: rumors.

14ymedio and Yucabyte want to make these analyses available to Cubans and independent organizations so that they can improve the ability to identify, evaluate and counteract disinformation and erroneous information in the online space.

The analyses will be available on the websites of these two media and may change format and length depending on the comments received from readers.

I. Top list of rumors for the month of January 2023

A. Debt in London

B. Hacking of official accounts

C. Poverty – food shortage

D. Violence – crime/theft – femicides

E. Health – hospital conditions and access to medicines.

II. General analysis of the most relevant trends and rumors collected during January 2023

The main rumors collected during the month of January 2023 can be organized into three groups. First, those that register cases of violence on the Island, including robberies, increased crime and femicides; second, those that collect examples of food shortages, scarcity and poverty; and, finally, those that denounce the unsanitary conditions in Cuban medical facilities.

A. Violence, robberies and femicides

The alarm over the escalation of violence in Cuba has been a constant in the reports of rumors since at least November 2022. Although many users argued that crime was a feature of the year-end “environment,” at the end of January it was found that the complaints did not decrease but showed a tendency to be even more serious than those recorded in the second half of last year.

One characteristic of these reports is that they always contain a reference to the inaction of the police, the clumsiness or apathy in their investigations and the lack of action before reporting the crime. Another factor, pointed out with the same frequency, is that the crimes are only reported in the official press belatedly and with a note from the Ministry of the Interior, after both the complaints of users and the independent press report them.

Among the most serious rumors of violence in January are the theft of luggage from the Transtur interprovincial buses; the armed robbery of pension money from retirees; the murder perpetrated by a motorcycle police officer of his ex-wife; and the theft and resale of regulated products. In addition, users point out that many of the criminals act with the complicity of local police units, which offer them immunity under certain conditions.

Users point out that many of the criminals act with the complicity of local police units. (14ymedio)

B. Shortages and poverty 

In addition to the criminal situation, there are reports about the poverty on the Island. Shortages and rising prices are the starting points for many of the complaints on social networks. In addition, photos of Cubans have been circulating, particularly of the elderly, rummaging through garbage containers in search of food. Images were shared about the sale of products in poor condition and their transfer in terrible hygienic conditions.

The issue of food was talked about on social networks, in addition to the sale of food in online stores that, according to users, are businesses protected by the Regime and the United States Government itself, through one of the most controversial figures, the businessman Hugo Cancio. On the other hand, the terrible diet in schools — small portions of white rice and tomatoes, in many cases — has also been documented.

C. Unhealthiness

Health and hospital conditions, as well as access to medicines, are now common in rumors. In addition, in the first week of the year, several rumors circulated on the networks about the lack of medical personnel in polyclinics and hospitals, presumably due to the unprecedented exodus that the country suffered in 2022. From the shortage of supplies to the terrible state of building construction, criticism also reaches the community services. Notifications about the lack of transportation in funeral homes, the desecration of cemeteries and the delay in funeral services were repeated throughout the month.

In addition to these three groups of rumors, the trial for the non-payment of debts of the Cuban Government in London, the hacking of several official pages and accounts related to the Regime, and the exodus of professionals were also constant topics in January.

III. Most used platforms and format of content

Number of rumors reflected by platform and number of rumors seen.


Format and source of the information

The social networks on which these rumors circulate influence not only the format of the information but also the number of users who receive them. Although Facebook is still the most used platform by Cubans (most of the rumors collected appear in buying and selling groups), it is on Twitter that the most elaborate rumors circulate, usually in threads or screenshots, accompanied by an explanation. Also on Twitter there are numerous profiles that Cubans follow, which recycle the same information that their own followers send them. These accounts expand the scope of the rumors and generate a certain amount of feedback.

It is less common for rumors to be collected on networks such as Instagram or TikTok, which are generally for videos and photographs. The least used source of information is still personal messaging, through applications such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

To date, the largest fire is that of Pinares de Mayarí, in the eastern province of Holguín. (Granma)

I. Top list of rumors for the month of February 2023

A. Fires

B. Repression: response to demonstrations, regulations, release of political prisoners

C. Crime: robberies and femicides – concealment of cases

D. Poor conditions: Education and Health –  lack of supplies, unsanitary conditions – abandonment of the elderly.

II. General analysis of the most relevant trends and rumors collected during February 2023

The main rumors collected during the month of February 2023 can be organized into three topics. First, those who report fires, including explosions; second, those who report cases of repression, responses to demonstrations, prohibitions on leaving the country (regulations) and the release of political prisoners. Third, there are the rumors that collect cases of crime, including robberies and femicides.

A. Fires

This month, multiple reports of fires across the Island circulated on the networks. To date, the largest is that of Pinares de Mayarí, in the eastern province of Holguín. Apparently, this forest fire originated as a result of the severe drought that affects the country and the speed of the winds. Much of this mountainous area has been on fire for more than 15 days. Some media report that about 3,600 hectares [8,896 acres] of forest have been lost. Several users have shared the comment of a pilot from the area, who said that “it will burn until there is nothing left to burn,” since there are no resources to put it out.

Likewise, rumors were collected about several small fires in green areas of Havana, specifically in the vicinity of road 100, the highway to Pinar del Río and the area of Tulipán, in Nuevo Vedado. So far these have been controlled without major damage. Some users reported the presence of soot in the city, apparently as a result of these fires.

In addition, two other allegedly intentional fires were registered. The first, in a bodega (ration store) in Marianao, in Havana, where it is said that a manager caused the fire to hide the theft of products from the “basic family basket” which is sold through these stores. And the second, in a cane field in Banes, Holguín. A user who calls himself Clandestino Mayor affirms that this fire was “an action taken against the dictatorship.”

To this situation are added other rumors about an explosion, at the beginning of the month, in the historic military park Morro Cabaña, in the capital. Allegedly, one of the cannons used for the historic nightly 9:00 pm cannon shot caused the explosion, generating a small fire that was controlled at the time. Similarly, in the last week of February an explosion was reported in Old Havana, as a result of the handling of a gas canister in a workshop for refrigeration technicians. In the incident, one person died and another, who was seriously injured, died shortly after.

B. Repression: response to demonstrations, regulations, liberation of political prisoners

With the growing exodus that the Island is experiencing, there is a rumor that regulations will begin for workers in “strategic sectors” whom the Government cannot afford to lose. Almost all publications in this regard indicate an increase in travel restrictions for doctors and other health personnel.

During the month, the rumor about the release of Cuban political prisoners was also recurrent, with the mediation of the Catholic Church and several embassies. So far, there have been no clear signs of this possible release (which was already ruled out by Oscar Silvera, Cuban Minister of Justice). Another rumor says that the amnesty could be extended to ordinary inmates, as long as they “have not committed serious crimes or murders,” according to several users.

In this context, and as a result of the deprivation of nationality that the government of Nicaragua applied to its political prisoners and journalists, rumors were raised about the possibility that those imprisoned after the 11 July 2021 protests [11J] will have their citizenship taken away before being banished.

To this situation are added several complaints about the suicide of an 11J protester, 18, allegedly hanged in his cell at the Placetas police station. In addition, it is said that another young protester threatened to take his life after the authorities denied him the medicines he needs for treatment of his mental illness.

Many users also denounced the arrest of protesters in Guanabacoa at the beginning of the month. It was declared on social networks that the demonstration was peaceful, which did not prevent the participants from being arbitrarily detained. Similarly, several users pointed out the apathy of the Cuban people in the face of the claims and demonstrations of the mothers of the political prisoners, activists and relatives.

In mid-February, an alarming wave of rumors circulated about summons for interrogations, some official and others without official notification. The target of these citations were young 11J activists from San Antonio de los Baños, who were released.

The government blocks social media and independent media, disrupts mobile data connections and uses fake social media profiles. (14ymedio

C. Crime: robberies and femicides – concealment of cases

Rumors about assaults and robberies have been the most frequent this month, which respond to an escalation of violence on the Island. In this sense, the number of reports on the actions of gangs in different provinces such as Havana, Mayabeque and Las Tunas is remarkable. Most of them, according to users, are made up of groups of teenagers and children who carry out assaults, in some cases with knives. As a result, injuries and at least one death have been reported.

Among the most serious rumors of violence this month are the attempts to rape and assault minors, perpetrated by men and during daytime hours, in the municipalities of Santa Clara (Villa Clara) and Nuevitas (Camagüey). In addition, it is said that a group of thieves in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa carried firearms, and that its members were captured by the police. Other rumors were also collected about the thefts from transport and tourism buses in the east of the Island, and about several children who were stabbed, according to a user, “by a madman who was passing” through the place.

The growing number of femicides was also a source of alert on social networks this month. The report of the murder of a 17-year-old teenager at the hands of her 50-year-old partner inside a police station in Camalote (Camagüey) went viral. Likewise, other cases of femicide were reported in Matanzas and Granma, where a woman was killed on a public road by her ex-partner with a firearm.

III. Most used platforms and format of content

Number of rumors collected by platform in February

Translated by Regina Anavy


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