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Social Media Festivals Come To Cuba

Over the past two months, pro-Castro and opposition social media geeks held dueling social media festivals in Cuba. Both groups are calling for change, with even regime supporters calling for lessened restrictions on Internet access.

Social Media Festivals Come To Cuba

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Cuba is not generally known for its technology sector. The country’s geeks, however, are as plugged into social media as any worldwide.

Over the past two months, Cuba was home to two nationwide social media festivals: The independent Festival Clic and the pro-government Blogazo X Cuba. Festival Clic, which wrapped up on June 23, was partly organized by opposition organization Estado de SATS and Spanish blogger collective EBE. Cuba’s government has been ambiguous towards Twitter, Facebook, and social media at large. They have previously criticized Twitter for not censoring Fidel Castro death rumors and launched copycat versions of Facebook and Wikipedia called, respectively, Red Social and EcuRed. Nonetheless, the actual Facebook remains, by far, the most visited social media site in Cuba. Internet censorship remains persistent and citizens often have limited access to the web.

According to Global Voices’ Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall, Festival Clic included multiple workshops on topics including Twitter, an Internet bill of rights for Cuban computer users, the local digital journalism community, and web music and graphic technologies. Yoani Sanchez, a prominent Cuban opposition blogger with a wide American readership who helped organize the event, wrote that “this event is driven by various organizations, groups and individuals of civil society, but doesn’t pander to any of their particular interests. Its character is technological, not ideological.” Cubadebate, a government-controlled publication, issued a sharp attack against the conference and accused them of “building the strategy of building networks before an attack, as they did in Libya, Syria and formerly in Yugoslavia, and to strengthen the idea of a counterrevolution allied with the United States as the promoter of Internet freedom.” A writeup of the event is also available at the English-language Havana Times.

Meanwhile, Blogazo X Cuba took an openly political tone in content and workshops. The social media festival, which took place in April with the full approval of the Cuban government, issued a final document sharply denouncing the American economic blockade of Cuba and calling on the Cuban government to increase Internet usage and loosen unspecified island-wide restrictions on access.

Both events were relatively small, with under 100 participants attending each.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

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[Image: Flickr user Alessandro Pisani]

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