Technical difficulties

Earlier this week, Yoani Sanchez tweeted that she could no longer send Twitter messages from her cellphone, via SMS (presumably, she was tweeting from an Internet cafe.) Sanchez later posted a second tweet, requesting that Twitter confirm that it was not blocking service–Twitter responded, explaining that a technical adjustment had caused tweets sent via SMS to be lost.

The company has disabled long coding for sending tweets via SMS. Users must now send messages using short coding, i.e. a five-digit number, rather than a standard telephone number. Twitter is trying to recover messages that were lost during the transition.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, blogs from Babalu to The Havana Note were buzzing with accusations of censorship by the Cuban government, in spite of a statement by Cuba’s Vice Minister of Information Technology and Communication denying allegations that the government was involved. While many posted follow-up pieces, relaying the flashing red ‘technical difficulties’ sign from Twitter, some (Babalu) did not.

This raises an uncomfortable question about how activists and advocates for free speech online (a group I consider myself to be a part of) interpret and respond to evidence of censorship. There was a paradox at play in how bloggers reacted to the first piece of news from Sanchez–rather than investigating the problem, they rushed to tweet, post, and postulate about what repercussions this would have for Cuba in the international context. “Great,” they seemed to say. “More evidence of repression by the Cuban government!”

So is this really what everyone wants? No. While they disagree bitterly on how it should come about, most of these bloggers and advocates want Cubans to have their human, civil, and political rights fully upheld. Of course, no one  believes that this will happen under the current government. But I think there is little to be gained by claiming that the Cuban government is more repressive than it actually is.

Though I understand the impulse behind this kind of reaction–I’ve had it myself, many times–it makes for bad journalism (if it’s journalism at all.) A smart reporter would have checked with Twitter before assuming that the Cuban government was responsible for the blockages. But I know they are few and far between these days.

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