Cuba tightens control on use of social media, sparking outrage

Cuba introduced tighter controls on the use of social media, including a ban on publications that might damage “the country’s prestige,” angering many citizens and international rights activists.

Decree 35, published in the official gazette comes a month after the most widespread anti-government protests in the Communist-run country in decades, which spread in part due to information shared on social media.

The legislation bans the spread of false news or messages and content deemed offensive or which “incite mobilizations or other acts that upset public order.” It also provides a channel for Cubans to inform on potential contraventions.

Those who have attempted to “subvert the constitutional order” will be considered cyberterrorists. It does not say what the penalties will be for violations.

“Our Decree 35 goes against misinformation and cyber lies,” said President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who has blamed the July 11 protests on an online campaign by US-backed counter-revolutionaries.

Cuba analysts compared the measure to the totalitarianism of George Orwell’s “1984”, saying that they feared the vague definitions of what constitutes a violation would allow for arbitrary implementation.

Since the introduction of mobile internet just over two years ago, platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have enabled Cubans to share their gripes and even mobilize in a country where public spaces are tightly controlled.

“Cuba is formalizing digital repression,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s Americas director, noting the state already had monopoly over internet access, which was curtailed during and following the July 11 protests.

Nicaragua passed similar “cyber crime” legislation last year and has used it to muzzle opposition, she said.

Cuba’s new decree explicitly orders the state telecoms monopoly to suspend services to users who have committed contraventions, in coordination with relevant authorities.