As Cuba Tries To Block Internet Messaging, A Reminder Of Why The Open Internet Is So Important

from the this-is-important dept

I know that the internet is taking quite a beating these days, but we should not forget the promise of the internet, and how it can be used for important movements. The protests in Cuba are a perfect example of this. As you probably know, Cuba has had very limited access to the internet, though it has expanded recently. Twenty years ago we wrote about efforts to build bootleg internet connections in Cuba, and a decade later, Fidel Castro suddenly talked about how important the internet was, noting that he had become something of an internet junkie himself. It’s really only in the last few years that Cuba has made it really possible for people to have internet in their homes, but only via the state operated ETECSA with fairly limited speeds.

Of course, access to information (and people) is a two-edged sword in many ways, and as many authoritarian governments have discovered in the past, the general public might not go in the direction you want them to go in. And thus, the Cuban government did what so many authoritarians have done before: as the protests picked up, the internet began to shut down. It wasn’t a full internet cut-off, but what appeared to be targeted at specific messaging apps. According to Kevin Collier at NBC News:

A number of messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, are all blocked in Cuba, said Arturo Filast?, the project lead at the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI).

OONI, an international nonprofit, relies on volunteers around the world to install a program that probes for which types of internet use are being censored and how. Its data showed that ETECSA began blocking WhatsApp on Sunday night, then Signal and Telegram on Monday. All three were still blocked on Tuesday, Filast? said.

“We have never seen instant messaging apps being blocked in the country,? he said. “It?s sort of unprecedented that we would see such a heavy crackdown on the internet in Cuba.”

In response to this, Ron DeSantis did one of the rare right things, and suggested that Florida could step in and figure out ways to give Cuba internet access. Of course, there’s quite a bit of irony here as well, since DeSantis just a few months ago signed a law that makes it harder for the public to protest in Florida without retaliation. So, sure, it’s great that he’s trying to help Cubans, but tough to take him seriously after he tried to block the same rights and support to his own constituents.

Either way, in a time when people are constantly berating the internet and technology as all bad, it’s important to remember how much good there is — including the ability to help people organizing to protest unfair government regimes and to make themselves heard. The fact that Cuba’s first move is to try to shut down those channels of communication only serve to put an exclamation point on that fact.

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Comments on “As Cuba Tries To Block Internet Messaging, A Reminder Of Why The Open Internet Is So Important”

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Anonymous Coward says:

You could measure freedom of speech by what apps are blocked in any country, about half the of cuba has mobile internet acess .
cuba has been hit hard by us santions, covid has wiped out tourism income , many people have lost their jobs due to lockdowns.
people are short of food.
so of course young people are protesting now.
Many protestors have been arresting in the last week.
cubans can watch usa tv ,films. thru smuggled usb drives .
they know how badly off they are in terms of lack of acess to basic items.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Come on, man! If you’re going to be free speech maxmalist, then go all out; what’s this double-edged sword bullshit?

The population might not go where to want them to go? And where would that be, ideally?

Let’s not kid ourselves here. There’s been a 70-year embargo and sanctions on Cuba for only one reason; it’s a small dog easy to kick around. Of course, also the presidential politics due to its electoral votes and large Cuban exile contingent.

When the people of Egypt organized to protest their unfair government regime, and held free elections, apparently the US didn’t like that so much because they happened to elect a party that is a little too religious. So they supported a violent coup, and now the country is ruled by a dictator, but one that does what the CIA tells it to. When are the next elections happening in Egypt? Are the people there any freer than Cuba? Doesn’t matter, no sanctions and US sends them billions in support.

Then there’s Vietnam, also a communist country, and one the US actually went to war with. Lots of Vietnam refugees in US too. Why is the politics for Vietnam different than Cuba? No US sanctions against them, open trade and travel.

Yeah, social networks and messaging are great, until they’re used to coordinate deadly attacks against minorities, like against Muslim in India, or against Muslims in Myanmar. Let’s not single out our great new world of instant messaging, because in the 90’s the massacre in Rwanda was coordinated by radio. Then there’s troll farms and mass disinformation campaigns. It’s all good!

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