Facebook has been accused of blocking independent journalists in Cuba from sharing posts as opposition groups have called for protests to continue against the island’s communist government.
The social media platform, whose parent company is now known as Meta, sends messages to journalists regularly, telling them that they cannot share messages, three different reporters told VOA. The journalists complain this prevents them from sharing information, which they say is crucial to their work.
It comes as Archipelago, an opposition group, attempted to stage a nationwide protest on November 15 even though the demonstration was prohibited by order of the Cuban government. Archipelago claimed that its supporters were unable to take to the streets because police and government supporters prevented them from leaving their homes.
Despite this, Archipelago called on protesters to continue their struggle by dressing in white, carrying white roses, creating personal videos and banging pots and pans until November 27.
The campaign coincides with the first anniversary of a demonstration in Cuba by hundreds of people protesting curbs on freedom of expression and the detention of artists and activists, in particular the Cuban rapper Denis Solis Gonzalez, which led to a rally outside the culture ministry.
The Cuban government has said that the November 15 demonstration was orchestrated by the U.S. government and failed because of a lack of popular support.
Independent journalists told VOA that their ability to report on events was hampered by being blocked at times from Facebook.
José Manuel Moreno Borrego, who works for Comunitario Amanecer Habanero, an online news outlet that is not aligned with the Cuban government, has been effectively under house arrest along with his wife for months. Their twin sons are allowed to go to school.
“I cannot share messages on Facebook with people at times. I get a message saying that I was not permitted to do this, but there is no explanation. This is happening every two months or so,” he told VOA by telephone from Havana. “I am talking to you by WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook but it is autonomous. I think the government may have put pressure on Facebook to block us.”
VOA contacted Meta for comment. “Per our policies on spam, we restrict an individual’s ability to repeatedly post the same content, which is what took place here,” a spokesperson said in a written response. “Any suggestion otherwise is inaccurate.”
The platform strongly denied that Meta was restricting people’s ability to post in groups because of pressure by a government. To the contrary, Meta said its apps give people an online voice.
Moreno said since the attempted demonstration by opposition groups on November 15, there are fewer police on the streets but the state pressure on independent journalists has not relented.
“The state pressure has not been relaxed at all. It is less palpable but there are always people outside my house keeping watch,” he said.
Alberto Corzo, the director of the Cuban Institute for the Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP) on the island, has been under house arrest since thousands took to the streets in July in the largest demonstrations in decades.
ICLEP is an nongovernmental organization that has created a network of independent journalists in Cuba. Last week, police brought new charges against Corzo of public disorder, a crime that could bring a five-year prison term. He was accused of putting up posters that were critical of the Cuban government, an allegation he strongly denies.
“This has been very tough for me and my family. I am stuck here at home waiting to hear the decision of the court,” he told VOA from his home in Cuba’s Matanzas province. “I have had trouble with Facebook at times which stops me sharing posts to groups. Of course, this makes working more difficult but there are ways around it.”
Like other Cuban journalists who work for independent media, Corzo uses social media to do his job. Corzo said he always deletes the links to the Facebook groups and his posts after he has sent them “for security reasons.”
Camila Acosta, a journalist who works for the Spanish daily newspaper ABC and Cubanet, a news website, has been under house arrest since she was detained after the street demonstrations.
“I have been here in my house for four months or longer with people watching me from the corner of the block. I have to work from home. This is only possible because I can access social media,” she said. “At the start of the year, I was unable to get into Facebook. It blocked me. But I was able to restore access to it.”
In an effort to ask the Cuban government about the treatment of independent journalists, VOA contacted the Cuban Embassy in Madrid and the International Press Center in Havana but did not receive a response.
Bruno Rodriguez, the Cuban foreign minister, said in an interview with The Associated Press last week that protests failed because of a lack of popular support.
“The announced fall of the internet did not occur and there was no repression, no marches or militarization of the country,” he tweeted later.
The protest marches planned for November 15 would have coincided with the reopening of the country to tourism and schools after 20 months of lockdown because of the coronavirus epidemic. However, the Cuban government banned the marches because it was eager to avoid a repeat of the July protest, analysts have suggested.
“The abuse of the reporting mechanism in social media as a means of censorship is extensive in many countries, and Cuba is one of them,” Marianne Díaz Hernández of Access Now, an international organization devoted to defending digital rights, told VOA.
“Even though frequently the platform, in this case Facebook, may eventually restore their access after appeals, this is not always an option for many people since the appeal mechanism requires a level of access and comfort with technology and bureaucracy which can be out of reach for many people.”
Díaz Hernández added, “In Cuba, even though access to the internet has opened up a bit in the past couple of years, it is still very expensive and not at all something which is available for everyone — which means that decisions like this take a larger toll for them than they would for other people in countries where access is more widely available.”
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.