Cuba Protests Mass Suspension of State Propaganda Accounts for Violating Twitter Rules

A person holds a smartphone showing the twitter account of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, in Havana, on October 10, 2018. - Diaz-Canel is the first Cuban President who opens an account on twitter. (Photo by ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty

The communist regime in control of Cuba loudly protested a mass suspension of its Twitter accounts between Wednesday and Thursday for violating the site’s terms of use.

The suspension blocked content from the official accounts of Raúl Castro, the Cuban Communist Party, and its state newspaper Granma, as well as up to 20 others.

A Twitter spokesman told media that the accounts had violated Twitter rules by attempting to artificially amplify the reach of their propaganda to make the Communist Party seem more popular. Cuba has been caught in the past creating fake Twitter accounts using celebrity photos that attempt to pass as regular Cuban people praising their repressive government.

Twitter restored the accounts late Thursday. The many unaffected Cuban regime accounts active used the blackout time to condemn the United States and Twitter for applying the terms of use of the website to them. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez published a post calling America “genocidal” four times, in both English and Spanish.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry (MINREX) highlighted four of the affected accounts on the site: the Granma page, communist radio network Radio Rebelde’s official page, the state website CubaDebate, and the account for the state television show Mesa Redonda (“Round Table”), where Castro had dispatched the nation’s second-in-command, Miguel Díaz-Canel, to address growing unrest in response to severe electricity and gasoline shortages in the country.

“In an obvious concerted operation, there was an attempt to limit the revolutionaries’ states in favor of the truth,” MINREX dramatically proclaimed.

The regime denounced the application of the terms of use, which Twitter offers to read to anyone opening an account on the site, as “cyber warfare.”

Reuters, which reached out to Twitter for an explanation, noted that Castro’s page, as well as that of his daughter and state official Mariela Castro, were also affected.

“Asked to comment on the suspensions, a Twitter spokesman said that the company’s platform manipulation policies prohibit users artificially amplifying or disrupting conversations by using multiple accounts,” Reuters reported. Twitter made clear that it had reached out individually to the affected accounts to explain their violations.

“You may not use Twitter’s services in a manner intended to artificially amplify or suppress information or engage in behavior that manipulates or disrupts people’s experience on Twitter,” the site’s terms of use read. “You can’t artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts.”

In an article on Thursday announcing their return to the platform, Granma claimed that Twitter suspended the accounts “for no reason.” The same article goes on to confirm that Twitter officials did, in fact, tell the owners of the affected accounts that they had violated the rules by “using various identical accounts with similar content to artificially amplify conversations.

It confirmed that Twitter suspended “around 20 accounts owned by important Cuban media, press directives, government officials, and journalists.”
Cuba bans all independent journalism. It has, in recent years, allowed the publication 14 y medio to function online, though the outlet relies heavily on Cubans in exile for much of its material.

Granma complained that the blackout appeared to be timed with a Mesa Redonda broadcast in which Díaz-Canel attempted to blame the United States for the many fuel and energy shortages in the country – which are a direct result of socialist mismanagement of Venezuela, the country that provided free oil to Cuba for decades before running out.

“The Cuban president [under Raúl Castro] explained how the current American administration is increasing hostilities towards Cuba with the aim of harming the basic needs of the people and their daily activities,” Díaz-Canel reportedly said on the broadcast.

Foreign Ministry Rodríguez made similar claims on Twitter with his, one of the few accounts unaffected, calling Washington “genocidal.”

In reality, the shortages are the product of Cuban regime abuse of its economy and incompetence at running basic industries. The Cuban government admitted as much regarding a widespread bread shortage at the end of last year, telling its people that it had grossly miscalculated how much flour to import to feed its people by 40,000 tons and could not fix the broken mills of eastern Cuba due to a shortage of parts.

Twitter was forced to permanently suspend dozens of accounts linked to the Cuban regime last year due to similar terms of use violations, in that occasion violating the provision that reads:

You can’t mislead others on Twitter by operating fake accounts. This includes using misleading account information to engage in spamming, abusive, or disruptive behavior. Some of the factors that we take into consideration include:

  • use of stock or stolen profile photos, particularly those depicting other people;

  • use of stolen or copied profile bios; and

  • use of intentionally misleading profile information, including profile location.

The Cuban regime reportedly opened accounts using photos of Italian dancer Robert Bolle, French model Arnaud Francois, Colombian actress Paola Rey, American actress Hayden Panetierre, Canadian fitness model Amanda Lee, Greek singer Sakis Rouvas, and Argentine actor Pablo Heredia, among others, to create the appearance that young Cubans supported the regime oppressing them. The stock photos were paired with traditionally Spanish names and the accounts posted content such as meme images with Fidel Castro quotes and attacks on the United States.

Directorio Democrático Cubano, the U.S.-based Cuban exile group that exposed the spam accounts, said there were “hundreds” in existence on the site promoting communist content, and all were engaging with each other’s content.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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