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Cuba Censors SMS Messages ... for Now

What could the Cuban government do with Russia-style access to Facebook data? What sorts of fake news could they create and circulate on YouTube and Pinterest? What can be done to control the dark side of the Cuban Internet?

Cuba is about to hold a referendum on a proposed constitution that the government supports and Eduardo Sanchez posted a test showing that SMS messages with anti-referendum terms like #YoVotoNo, #YoNoVoto or abstención are being blocked.

This form of censorship is not new. In 2016, 14Ymedio posted a story documenting the blocking of SMS messages containing terms like “human rights” or the names of certain dissidents.

While this blocking appears to occur only on SMS messages, as opposed to Internet texting, one can imagine similar screening of Internet traffic. The 3G mobile connectivity that Cuba began deploying last month appears to have significantly increased Internet activity, making this rudimentary censorship more significant.

But screening texts for keywords could be just a start. As shown here, Cubans are already users of Facebook, YouTube and other social media services.

Cuban social media market shares, January 2018-19 (source)

I have long advocated improved Internet access in Cuba—most recently suggesting several reasons for making 3G mobile access free as soon as capacity would allow, but what might the Cuban government do with Russia-style access to Facebook data? What sorts of fake news could they create and circulate on YouTube or Pinterest?

In the early days of the Internet, we naively saw it a force for Good, but China, which came online in 1993, showed us (& Cuba) the dark side. Like China in the 1990s, Cuba is a near “green field.” What can be done to control the dark side of the Cuban Internet?

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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