How the Censored Practice Internet Censorship

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Blogger is blocked by anti-internet censorship site

(A Spanish version of this post is HERE)

I’ve been blocked by a Twitter user who claims to be an outlet for the voiceless and oppressed in Cuba. This is a first one for me.

I mistook  this site, which displays this slogan: “The free press is the mother of all our liberties and of our progress under liberty” and that retweets this kind of message:  “Internet is our force, they can not silence us!” for a place where honest discussion about important issues could be had and where fair and constructive criticism would be welcomed.

It appears that I was mistaken.

I must have gotten on somebody’s bad side for complaining about crude, homophobic jokes, racist remarks and U. S. Right Wing propaganda. I could not come up with any other reason. So in order to better understand what happened, I’ll do a brief recounting of the events that led up to my “banning.”

I started following this news site because I wanted to stay informed about breaking news from Cuba — this user claims to be based in Havana — and also to receive messages from Cuban bloggers, not only those based in Cuba, but from all over the world. I occasionally translated tweets from Spanish to English and tagged news articles or information I came across that I felt would be of interest to our community.

This past Saturday, March 13th, I noticed that the URL addresses on tweets posted at this site where not being shortened. Anyone who uses Twitter will understand why this is important, particularly since these are reposted by others — which will then also include the name of the person republishing — and different tags are added, a short address is helpful. There are different ways to do this, most of them automatic if you use an application like AddThis, a bookmarking and sharing service. So I began retweeting with shorter URL anything that was posted for most of Saturday afternoon.

At some point I noticed a tweet referencing FOX News as it’s source. It caught my eye for two reasons. First, I didn’t see the connection to the Cuban issue — this was a generic anti-Obama administration piece for which FOX is well known — and second, I generally view anything from FOX with extreme skepticism. I believed them to be nothing short of the official outlet of the Republican Party with a roster of “news” personalities that have made Obama-bashing the centerpiece of their programming, even by FOX’s own admission.

I posted a counter-opinion tweet:

I do no believe anything FOX News says. They are the mouthpiece of Bush’s people, reactionaries, anti-democratic and liars.

and more:

I don’t understand the alignment with, or sympathies from, the Cuban community to the American ultra-right elements like FOX, Bush, Cheney etc.

All I got back was a non-confrontational “Interesting.” I tweeted that I would like to write about this subject at some point in the future. I mentioned that some people could not conceive of someone being an anti-communist and an Obama supporter at the same time. But overall, it was cool so far.

Not for long. It was as if someone different came on board on the other side. The exchanges became a little testy and a bit more confrontational.

Them: Democracy is messy, colleague!

Me: Agreed, but thank God for democracy

Them: God has nothing to do with democracy, it was the Greeks I think and today is not Sunday

Then came a joke they retweeted which I found offensive. It implied Raul Castro is a homosexual who’s ass is burning and after he asks older brother for advice, Fidel tells him to stop being a fagot. It’s even cruder than my translation portrays. In my own experience — and for most progressives I know — being gay is not an offense unless you live in Uganda or in another era.

I shot back: “Tina’s jokes not funny, possibly homophobic & they cheapen this channel. Sorry, I got to call it as I see it #cuba”. I then accused Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R), of using a human tragedy to score political points because he was accusing the Obama administration of “appeasing” Castro while political prisoners were mistreated in Cuban jails. I called that a Right Wing lie.

Then came this exchange:

Them: #Cuba FOXNews.com – Democrats Dump Student Aid Overhaul Into Health Care Bill http://shar.es/moq6C (we dont need education) lol…

Me: I’m missing the #cuba connection here. I’m lol that you think FOX is a credible news org worth retweeting. Please.

Them: hahaha yo came out of your cave, nobody owns the absolute truth, greetings…

Me: FOX is the official mouthpiece of the GOP, party of the white and the rich. Since I’m neither, they have nothing for me

Them: Don’t worry, Obama is going to be in the Brown House for 50 years (Emphasis mine. This tweet has since been scrubbed, but I haven’t given hope that I can get it back).

Me: I heard that joke from an old racist I know. Not funny. So far tonight you’ve offended homosexuals and people of color #cuba.

I logged out after this. The fact that some parts of the conversation took place in English, led me to believe that at least my latest interlocutor was in the States or was at least very knowledgeable of the national politics as well as the national language. It makes no difference to me. My location was Tehran for most of last year, as were a lot of other people.

At this point I was aggravated and disappointed, but nothing compared to the way I felt after I discovered the next day that I had been — and remain to this day — blocked, banned, silenced, exiled from the conversation about my country of origin. Sent back to the place I was when I was 14 and living in Cuba, unable to express my opinion without facing the most serious consequences. I feared that some of the censored had come to these shores, the home of free expression, carrying the duct-tape of censorship to be applied across the mouth of anyone in disagreement or in opposition.

The one thing that has come to bother me most about this sad episode is the growing suspicion, based on some paranoia, I’m sure — and if you spent your childhood under a totalitarian dictatorship you have an abundant reserve of paranoia — that numerous tweets of mine that discussed State Department initiatives regarding internet freedom were never retweeted by this site, even if it was an issue central to the main theme of discussion, simply because they painted the Obama administration in a favorable light by being pro-active in the Cuban situation. Most of my tweets that had to do with Cuba were always retweeted. But I hope I’m wrong about this.

After I discovered my status had changed, I fired away a tweet in outrage: “Hypocrite. Doing the same things they do to you in Cuba. Blocking people that condemn your racist and homophobic jokes”. I included the #Cuba hashtag. Then I went silent for three days trying to process what had just happened. I’ve spend most of today writing this post. I feel better for the catharsis but awful about what has occurred, as if in some dark way this confirms my worst fears about our Cuban reality. The intolerance of differences of opinion rears it’s ugly head reminding me of the enormous task ahead. Imagine what a truth commission would look like if we can even discuss difficult issues or accept opposing views online. God help us all.

Now, I understand that if you believe President Obama to be the Anti-Christ, or a racist, or a communist/socialist who is a secret Muslim spy with fascist tendencies and you want to watch FOX News, which agrees with your point of view, that is your constitutionally given right. The same constitution gives me the right to speak against this biased nonsense. However, if I speak my opinion on a site, or any kind of platform, not owned by me, the owner of that site is under no obligation to publish my views, even if that site advocates free speech and internet freedom for all. They can even block me. This I accept.

But I’m sure you see the irony.

2 thoughts on “How the Censored Practice Internet Censorship

  1. lissnup March 18, 2010 / 10:45 am

    I wish your story was unique my friend. Sadly, it is all too common. The internet can be a hostile environment for balanced, well-adjusted individuals at times. We each have to cultivate a defence mechanism to protect ourselves and our psyches against the onslaught of abuse from deviant and disruptive influences.

    Your open minded awareness and ability to make astute observations without sacrificing your personal principles has in fact enabled you to ‘escape’, that is how I view being blocked by one such as you describe.

    Life online without the company of these sub-species would be much more pleasant, but as they are extremely tenacious we must make do with knowing they exist, and trying to warn against them.

  2. bjohns15 March 18, 2010 / 2:02 pm

    I especially liked the end:

    “However, if I speak my opinion on a site, or any kind of platform, not owned by me, the owner of that site is under no obligation to publish my views, even if that site advocates free speech and internet freedom for all. They can even block me. This I accept.

    But I’m sure you see the irony.”

    To remedy this, the best blog-owner practice is to allow all comments unless it is abusive or spam.

    An interesting example, from someone IN CUBA and quite well-known, is that of Juan Juan Almeida. I am friends with Juan Juan on facebook, and I regularly chat with his daughter, Indira, who lives in Miami(Juan Juan is not allowed to leave the Island according to father state). On his FB page, a man made abusive comments towards Juan Juan and all of his friends. Indira asked Juan Juan if if she should could block this man. Juan Juan responded: No one should be blocked, freedom of speech).

    In the spoiled world that we live in in the United States, it is very tempting to ignore dissenting viewpoints solely because we think what they say is rubbish(i.e. fox news), but vigilance must be maintained if discussion is not to be chilled.

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