The U.S. funded media war against Cuba is moving from disinformation to emotional manipulation
About a month ago, given progress in controlling the COVID-19 epidemic, Cuban authorities released an official list of activities that would gradually resume normal functioning over three phases - announcing that a detailed explanation would be provided the following day on the Mesa Redonda television program. Cubans were relieved and hopeful, but as the hours of that afternoon and evening advanced, another message spread at lightning speed.
From cell phone to cell phone, through the WhatsApp messaging network, a list of measures began to circulate, a false report that created uncertainty about the official plan, clearly designed to cause confusion, annoyance and discomfort. From user groups to private chats and vice versa, the reach of the fake list of measures was expanding by the minute. It will never be known exactly how many people read it, and how many believed its content, or were able to recognize the suspicious language, far removed from the terms customarily used in government and public communication in Cuba, revealing another source.
Soon after, several journalists working in official media, on their own initiative, warned on their own Facebook pages of the false list of measures. By noon, the majority of Cubans who have Internet access on their cell phones and use WhatsApp had probably read it. The next day, on the Mesa Redonda program, the lists’ true nature was made evident, but by then the job had done.
In responding to the media war against Cuba on social media - in which many social actors with different roles participate - it is not enough to simply contrast true and false information. Even the best antibiotics lose their effectiveness. It is not enough to wait for the national news broadcast any given night, or for the newspaper to come out the next day. But the immediacy of digital media, as compared to the traditional, is not the main issue. It is, more importantly, a question of intentionality.
The evolution of the U.S. funded media war has been moving from the informational to the emotional realm. It is no longer a question of disinformation vs. information, but of emotion vs. rationality. The purpose of the list was not the ephemeral one of sowing disinformation, but rather to create annoyance, distrust, resentment, and aversion toward anything that comes from the country’s political leadership. It doesn't matter if a news item is exposed as false, later on, if the immediate reaction contributes to the larger objective.
It is not a war of content, but of emotional impact. When someone slides a finger across a cell phone screen or taps a Facebook icon, within a few moments images and headlines appear, whether they capture the viewer’s attention or not. A growing number of counter-revolutionary websites have based their media strategy on the simple combination of image and headline with the manipulative effect this produces. Even if the person does not open the content, it is enough to position the topic of interest.
The simplistic use of headlines and fast reading content is combined with memes, and the production of videos for YouTube, or broadcast live via Facebook. Traffic or readership studies, which benefit the digital sites of the corporate media, are not able to measure the subjective effect that this type of communication warfare produces.
This emotional strategy on social media has been effective in manipulating Cubans’ desire for lower-priced Internet access and concern caused by shortages and long lines at shops, as well as the poor quality of various services. "Opinion leaders," musicians, comedians, actors and other public figures are positioned, as long as their publications are superficial enough to be useful for these purposes.
The disruption of legitimate debates and necessary criticism is a permanent mission. What rightly emerged as an issue involving zoning, architectural, or perhaps aesthetic questions, as a result of unfortunate construction projects in the capital recently, was redirected on social media via innuendo, to become an expression of anti-government sentiment.
The segmentation of the Cuban digital public implies, for these manipulators, the exploitation of themes of general or national impact, as well as those of specific sectors: while the opening of stores in dollars can capture the interest of the majority of the population, the architectural heritage of the Vedado neighborhood is a sensitive question only for a minority, but one of strategic value.
Media actions that arouse emotions and inhibit the rationality of a segment are modified and amplified on common or specific spaces. The work of websites and youtubers aimed at the wider population is combined with "alternative" digital platforms designed for a sector with interests or professional careers in the arts, universities, journalism, or the cultural system itself.
Another objective is to sequester social causes and issues such as racism, sexual rights and gender roles, which have been addressed with educational and legislative changes precisely because of their integration as responsibilities of institutions, as part of the government agenda and transformations the Revolution has produced. The goal is to turn sensitivity into irrational fanaticism, using those who have faced discrimination to attack the very institutions that are defending their rights.
Do those who are active on social media or behind these digital platforms, benefitting from the money they receive for pouring poison on their own people, really care about our sexual rights as Cubans? Who fights more for these rights - those who post insults and demands for resignations, or an institution like the Cuban Radio and Television Institute, which, adhering to state policy, produces soap operas and broadcasts hours of television to educate on the subject?
We see the same sorts of distortions used to discredit the National Revolutionary Police as a common practice in this media war of emotion vs. rationality, which does not even respect the loss of a popular, young singer, using his death to attack Cuba’s Public Health System which, to their chagrin, is waging a successful battle against COVID-19.
It is a matter of constructing a kind of "virtual show" in which we see mercenaries at the service of the United States' strategy against Cuba as our "Facebook friends," as if their “work” were the most natural social activity in the world.
Never before have we been so exposed to U.S. subversive funding for communication against Cuba, with the difference that, if in previous decades the use of radio and television broadcasting, with Radio and TV Martí, began at a specific moment, the penetration of the Internet has been gradual, at the same pace it has become more indispensable.
Today, 3.9 million mobile phones in Cuba have data connections to access the Internet, and estimates indicate that, by the end of this year, this figure will reach 4.2 million - half of the adult population. This means that the country already has more connected mobile phones than televisions. Adding the number of Cubans with other means of Internet access raises the figure to more than seven million. And it will continue to rise.
Some issues require a specific response; others can be included in a broader effort alerting users to be aware of the intentions behind what they see on the Internet. In this regard, the President recently stated during a Council of Ministers meeting: "We cannot continue to be anchored in pre-digital forms of communication and we cannot bureaucratize ideological processes."
To achieve this, we will need to go beyond the overuse of the term "social media" in some revolutionary debates at the grassroots level, sometimes with a pejorative connotation, which may reflect a lack of knowledge.
It is essential that community branches of political organizations integrate into their agendas monitoring of the media and the functioning of social networks. Although age, economic and technological interaction factors make this difficult, it requires, in many cases, a rethinking of the importance given the issue in these areas of discussion.
The paradox produced by the fact that those with the most experience and knowledge on the subject are not the most elder requires that we all be receptive to the reality that we are living not only in an era of change, but during a change of era, as well. (Granma)