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Cuba’s Social Media Blackout Reflects an Alarming New Normal

With protests erupting round Cuba on Sunday over the nation’s financial disaster, meals shortages, and Covid-19 an infection spike, the island nation’s ruling social gathering responded by blocking entry to Facebook, WhatsApp, and different widespread communication and social media platforms. It’s a measure that authoritarian governments have deployed repeatedly lately, a go-to device for repressive regimes seeking to stifle unrest made potential by the rising balkanization of the web.

The Cuban authorities has carried out one thing like this before, disrupting entry primarily to WhatsApp and Twitter throughout a surge of extra localized protests in Havana final November. But it seems to have gone additional this time. Reports indicate that Cuba suffered some brief, widespread, basic web outages on Sunday; after connectivity returned, not solely Facebook and WhatsApp however Instagram, Signal, and Telegram have been tough or unimaginable to entry from the island. Most VPNs appeared blocked as properly. The London-based web monitoring agency Netblocks mentioned on Tuesday that the platform blocking was ongoing.

“Reports of arrests, attacks on the press, and internet access cuts,” Pedro Vaca Villarreal, particular rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights wrote on Sunday. “The State must guarantee the rights of peaceful assembly and expression by refraining from repressing and stigmatizing the protest.”

Cuba’s nationwide telecommunications firm Etecsa, which provides each broadband and Cubacel cell information, was based in 1994. But the federal government traditionally has heavily restricted who may have an web connection and solely started slowly opening up entry in 2016. In 2019 the regime first started permitting restricted connections in private homes and businesses. The mixture of complete management and nascent person base makes it comparatively straightforward for the federal government to hold out each widespread web shutdowns and platform-specific blocking.

“Although for a few decades now the internet has grown in importance in Cuba, it is still limited and expensive, with the government being able to control local infrastructure through its state-owned telecommunication company,” says Juan Carlos Lara, director of public policy at the Latin American rights group Derechos Digitales. “But acts of blocking and censoring are hardly exclusive to the Cuban regime. Every time we see protests, not only in Latin America, we wait for reports of blocking and censorship.”

Unlike systems engineered for total government control, namely China’s Great Firewall, Cuba hasn’t blacklisted or blocked specific sites and services as a matter of course, largely because it hasn’t had to.

“The current situation is significant, because Cuba has had, you might say, accidentally free internet,” Toker says. “There was a lot of monitoring but not as much censorship, because access was just so limited.”

Etecsa has not made any public statements about the blocking and did not return a request for comment from WIRED. 

“Beyond what is happening in the country, many of us have relatives who are sick with Covid in isolated areas and the only way we have is through the internet,” Twitter person Félix Ernesto wrote in an enchantment to the telecom on Tuesday. “Please put mobile data or give an answer. Many of us need this service.”

Internet shutdowns, platform blocking, monitoring, and censorship are not just the domain of countries that have had to invest in major infrastructure projects to assert digital control, like Russia and Iran. Countries like Myanmar and Venezuela have additionally resorted to related measures when confronted with protests and unrest, and have been in a position to take action considerably extra simply as a result of their digital infrastructure is extra centralized. It’s additionally more and more frequent for platform blocking or complete web shutdowns to pull on for days, weeks, and even months with out reprieve, as in Kashmir throughout 2019 and 2020. 

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