Social Networks: With all and for the good of all?

“We are accompanied by a group of young experts on the topic of social networks, which has such current relevance and importance, and which has very staunch defenders and very harsh critics. The purpose of the Último Jueves sessions is precisely to think collectively, to analyze a problem jointly, so without further ado I invite the panelists to offer their comments on the topics.”

Puede leer aquí la versión en español de este artículo.

February, 2021


Katia Sánchez. Graduate of the Faculty of Communications at the University of Havana in 2015. She has worked for State enterprises, foreign and private businesses. In 2019 she created the first digital communication blog in Cuba, Penúltima casa [The Second to last House]. She founded the podcast El Pitch, in order to reflect on communication in Cuban undertakings. She is author of the e-book 500 días de comunicación digital en Cuba [500 days of digital communication in Cuba]

Fidel A. Rodríguez.  Professor in the Faculty of Communication at the University of Havana. Researcher on topics of digital culture and network collaborations. Coordinator of the project Enredes: Información y Comunicación para el desarrollo local [Nettangles: Information and Communication for local development]

Darío Alejandro Escobar. MA in Journalism. Web Editor of the Caimán Barbudo magazine [The Bearded Crocodile]. He was the director of the Somos Jóvenes magazine [We are Young]. Worskhop participant of the Fundación Gabo de Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano [Gabo Foundation of New Ibero-American Journalism] in 2017. Member of the Unión de Periodistas de Cuba [Union of Journalists of Cuba] and of the Asociación Hermanos Saíz. He has published chronicles and articles in Cuban and foreign magazines such as The Clinic [sic] (Chile), Anfibia (Argentina), La Jiribilla (Cuba), and Temas (Cuba).

Daylin Pérez de la Rosa. National Director of Institutional Communications of the Joven Club [Youth Computer Club], Graduate in Social Communications of the Faculty of Communications at the University of Havana.

Rafael Hernández. Welcome to Último Jueves, the discussion panel of Temas magazine. We are very grateful for the participation in this panel of an excellent group of panelists who will respond to our questions, as well as for the very large public which accompanies us. This is of special significance to us because with this February 2021 panel we mark 19 years. In February of 2002, we did our first Último Jueves panel, dedicated to the racial issue and racial violence in Cuba’s history, and with these 19 years we are following a path that, of course, we wish to continue. We are very happy that there has been such great attendance; it makes us think that we can continue for another 19 years.

We are accompanied by a group of young experts on the topic of social networks, which has such current relevance and importance, and which has very staunch defenders and very harsh critics. The purpose of the Último Jueves sessions is precisely to think collectively, to analyze a problem jointly, so without further ado I invite the panelists to offer their comments on the topics.

Rafael Hernandez: If you had to explain to an alien what social networks are, what would you say?

Katia Sánchez. Social networks are communication technologies in which people come together simultaneously in time and space, interacting in a personal, and at the same time a public way. Personal, because each individual has an avatar or personal profile that characterizes and personifies him or her. From there the person expressed him or herself through the network codes: video, text, audio, image, or a mixture of these formats. But they are also, on the other hand, public, because what is expressed is available to almost all users or at least to his closest contacts. There are configurations of privacy to restrict the visibility of our social network communications, but their set-up ever more implies and motivates the broadening of our bubbles or connective circles, including finding recognition through a broader range, and the subsequent approval of what we express in them. Those who expose themselves to the messages and their contacts have the power to comment on them, and especially to approve them or not. In addition, the intake of the messages is almost never chronological, but is updated by mathematical operations that study our previous interactions with other messages, and from other issues in which the more active users are rewarded and their posts promoted. In this way, the social networks as communicative structures, but also as businesses in themselves, try to maximize people’s user time and their creation of content. So they have become powerful and influential instruments of social communication, with a concept of democratization (that is completely questionable when we take into account the fact that not everybody has or can have access, and that much of the relevant interaction is due to sponsored and paid content) which has revolutionized the world of institutional communications, which is the field in which I work. In this sense, organizations have had to get used to a horizontal communicative set-up, of dialogue and loss of control over their messages to the public. On the other hand, and like never before, the public sees the possibility of speaking directly to the organizations about their concerns, questions and complaints.

Fidel A. Rodríguez. Social networks are a form of organization of human social life. They usually lean towards forms of horizontal connections and are in constant flux. This does not mean that there is not a hierarchy or power manifested in them and through them, nor that they represent relationships which by themselves guarantee equity. Yet many of the people or practices (with their associated ideas and discourses) that connect together can modify their relevance in the network as they grow and their connections and exchanges with other are solidified. Anyone can “influence” the others. These principles are key to understanding the change that our ways of conceiving institutions and their ways of grouping together, for example, are conceived.

The socio-digital or socio-technical networks, as some people call them, would be the technological and social systems of the exchange of information in networks. In this way, with dissimilar differences, we can recognize the networks of the Paquete [sic] or some of the communities of wireless networks that have populated Havana.

And finally, there are the commercial platforms of the digital networks, say Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter. Their owners are marketing magicians who, some 15 years ago, gave us these surprising mechanisms, in which we could see and touch the hidden texture of our social relations, violating the laws of time and distance. They invited us to broaden them, solidify them, maintaining a constant flow of our lives’ contents on the networks, including transfiguring us into what we would like to be. In exchange, they only ask to keep the whole record of what is happening in the devices, to try and understand how we behave and sell a summary of our lives to the best offer which, based on this information, will want to sell us something else. These are without a doubt the show-businesses of the century. Until very recently, almost no organization in the world regulated them or required them to pay taxes.

They have managed to make these magical devices an essential component of life of a good part of the planet. In fact, many of us believe that the future of the countries in which we live and the values that guide us are defined by them. This, almost all of us already know and accept like a necessary evil without much hassle.

I suppose that the aliens would ask us afterwards why we don’t just close the boxes. Well, I guess we all have a different answer to that.

Darío Alejandro Escobar.  I would define them as information programs of messaging, communication, production and broadcasting of content that allows for a very quick connection between their users. They are linked to the Information and Communications Technologies, and those with the most users (Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Messenger…) have become huge transnational enterprises. Their generalized use during the last 15 years has substantially transformed the ways of cultural consumption and socialization between human beings. These platforms operate through the accumulation and subsequent sale to other companies of a great quantity of data intentionally processed for publicity or for military use.

Daylin Pérez de la Rosa. If I had an alien standing in front of me I would tell him that the social networks are giant windows through which the world can be seen, what its inhabitants think, the news and novelties of this world. A place where one can make friends and project what one is, what one really thinks or not.

Rafael Hernandez: How would you assess the range of the networks (qualitatively, quantitatively, in Cuba, in other countries)?

Katia Sánchez. The social networks are an ever larger part of our daily life and of our communication systems. Statistically, the largest and most popular occupy first place in Internet use in the world and in our country, and its scope reaches nearly four billion people, about 84% of those who have access to the internet—according to data on Hootsuite in 2020. Moreover, the active users and the average daily use indicate growing levels which, however, are ever more concentrated in just a few networks and not in the whole ecosystem of existing social networks. From this we can draw two main conclusions:

  1. Even if massive access to these platforms exists, there is also a considerable percentage of the population without access, which generates a digital gap that affects generations, countries and social status.
  2. The concentration of social networks in small groups of powerful platforms which take the majority of the users for themselves, has brought negative consequences for the privacy of the users, the publicity, the politics and lack of opportunities for smaller businesses and for emerging social networks.

In Cuba, social networks proceed from a stigma associated first with the Internet and then with the platforms themselves. Even when the internet already existed on the Island, such as, for example, in organizations for professional use, the networks were banned, and it wasn’t until December of 2018 that the possibility of personally connecting through mobile data was opened. This, plus the prohibitive fees for Internet connection for much of the population, implied that there was a crest in the growth of Cuban users of social networks, which subsequently grew at a slower pace. From a qualitative point, the scope of the networks is limited by the low digital literacy of many Cuban users, which affects the potential of their use and, especially, of their production. The majority of organizations, on the other hand, both state and private, present biases or deficiencies in their communications on the social networks, which result in problems of connection and reach with their public.

Fidel A. Rodríguez.  I usually tell my students that they should stop counting the numbers of network users. There are a lot and there will be more. Enough to make us believe that just about the whole world is there. This effect tends to have a greater impact than just the figures.

This always makes you clarify that for some people the experience of the networks is once a week and for others, 20 hours per day, with a growing tendency towards the higher figures, even with the variability of age, social or cultural group or geography. A minimal mapping of the availability of the service and its relation with its cost allows us to know that there is a predominance of access in the provincial capitals and in the social groups of middle income.

Another issue is to understand what Cuba is in the digital networks. If you only “measure” the national residents, you will not be understanding much of what is being discussed about Cuba in this space, which is transnational.

The most important thing, I think, is to understand the scope that the networks have for us as an essential dimension of social life, and what they are as “places to be” for people.

In a recent study we did with colleagues from the Faculty of Communication (Willy Pedroso and Beatriz Pérez), several hundred Cubans confirmed to us that they essentially go on the digital commercial platforms in order to connect with their friends privately, and at the same time to “get informed as to what is happening in the world.” That is to say, for some, the networks are the private setting from which to understand public space.

The meaning that they are given, with ever more consensus, as being the expression of the popular opinion, the assembly of defining debates, imply a great responsibility for a place where people attend in fragmented webs, invisible to each other. Where the contents are accessible only through the mediation of obscure algorithms, access is stratified according to the ability to pay and the availability of the signal, the technical and cultural competence. And above all, to the diverse understanding of what those who are there must do.

So we have to think whether we want a large part of the dilemmas of our societies to be decided there, or whether we need other variants in other spaces that offer more sovereignty and freedom about our own issues.

Darío Alejandro Escobar. I consider that the real range of the social networks is very broad. There are many studies that confirm that they are the main source of daily information at a world-wide level. The social networks can register the public and political agenda on a specific topic within a very short time, sometimes even within a few hours. Almost no system of political and social control underestimates their use because they have also been converted in a battlefield between the governed and many of their governors; they are another space in which social consensus is negotiated daily. On the other hand, they are also platforms that have somehow democratized topics driven by sectors of civic society that in other periods of history would have cost three times the effort, or would have been impossible to bring into debate in the public sphere. Cuba has arrived a bit late to some of the social network dynamics with respect to other countries of the region, but it does count with a population that is well educated and could be an influence for the social networks to have massive emancipatory uses, and not only be a source of entertainment—which does not mean that entertainment and education cannot go hand in hand.

Daylin Pérez de la Rosa.  The reach of the social networks has grown in the last few years, not only in the world, but also in our own country. With the higher numbers of internet connections in Cuba, access to the networks has grown exponentially. I think these are the ones most used by users when they connect, be it to contact family or friends, or to keep informed. I think we need to work with people about the use of the networks so that they know the benefits of them, and know them and how to use them.

Rafael Hernandez: What social networks would you consider to be most frequently used? To be most useful? Most valuable?

Katia Sánchez. The primary use of social networks is still to communicate with other people, friends, acquaintances, family, digital contacts, etc. It is no accident that the platforms include many types and levels of interaction, both in public and private formats. However, with greater usage and knowledge of their workings, consumers go to other uses—also very common—like obtaining information, whether it be through communication media that are present in the networks and they can follow, or through informal news contents that pass through contact points. Getting information through the networks is already an established tendency in Cuba and has the consequence, among others, that the users are ever less frequently using the webs of the media, or other platforms of the media themselves (television, print, radio, etc.). Through the social networks people have a wider range of media (official, alternative, foreign) within their reach. At the same time, more fake news is being transmitted more frequently in the struggle for relevance and immediacy. When a news item comes to light, if it is relevant, it is not important for many users whether it is true or not, vetted or not. Information is almost always shared and spread without knowing its veracity, and that generates a trail which, whether it is then denied or not, has already seeped into the way the phenomenon is understood by many people. Social networks also generate spaces of knowledge, of education, and that is something that forms part of the essence of my project, “The Second to Last House.” This is a beneficial use which also has its risks in the sense that the education can be good or bad, outdated, acritical, away from reality or from the context of the person who absorbs it. And the fact that the networks are open, that is, that any user, from his or her platforms, can educate, or that any group with common interests can generate educational spaces, implies that there is a responsibility on the part of the users to receive an education that is truly disruptive, transformational, socially useful, choosing the information available to him or her.

On the other hand, there is the use of the production of content. The social networks convert themselves into ways of expression, of public communication and of construction of communicative products, breaking the traditional sender-receiver interaction with users who receive and produce at the same time. One use I can’t help but mention is the one that trademarks and organizations make of the networks in order to communicate with their public. Millions of trademarks struggle on the internet against the saturation of contents and the algorithms in order to appear on the feed [sic] of the users that constitute their public of interest. At the same time, for people it is a way of being close to the organizations, looking for work and finding business opportunities that have emerged through these same social networks.

Fidel A. Rodríguez. Well, the uses come and go and their mark depends on the subjects and the contexts. That would seem to be evident but at the moment we could believe that some figures and some practices are written in stone.

As is the case in many places in the world, the primary practice is to sustain friendship, partners, or family relations. Today we also have the deferred offshoot of some labor and educational functions related to this space.

Another relevant practice is the collaboration in solving individual and collective needs. And associated with that we can find really surprising experiences of social grouping by interests. There we can see the reproduction of all the social dilemmas in a kind of Aleph, like the beautiful creative practices of the collective well-being. I think that in these spaces there is an opportunity to learn to build things for the good of all, as well as the surprise of discovering a society that often goes beyond what we would have expected.

On the other hand, during these last months we have a recurring relationship with the explicitly political dimension in the use of the networks. Here we can include the emerging practices of activism and mobilization, which have different forms and ways of appearing in order to support, make visible an agenda or generate actions according to that agenda. There is also the declarative vocation and  confrontation on some issues with which some groups relate, seeing their profiles as murals or records that need to be updated so as to propose an idea.

I always mention how difficult it is to establish that all of society participates in a discussion and how much of that is the effect of our interaction with algorithms that hold us in the famous bubbles. This does not mean that the process is less relevant because it is lesswidespread , but it is also essential to break the intermediation of the commercial apparatuses in order to understand them.

Perhaps the most challenging thing has been to go from strong interactive events on political topics to a permanent state of tension in some networks. This is an aspect that needs another analysis. But its recurrence and normalization introduces a transformation that is quite defining of the way in which politics is exercised in some sectors. And for that we need to build a way of protecting the country’s projection, subject to these fragmented spaces full of rituals in which the representation obscures or substitutes the possibility to talk about the meanings and sense of the real-time events.

Darío Alejandro Escobar. In the Cuban context the most frequent usage is messaging. The most useful one may be the access to fast and good information when one has the professional competence to have access. The most valuable use, it seems to me, is educational and transformative, which goes along with the previous one I mentioned. The quantity and the quality of information that a citizen can obtain today from the social networks for his benefit and to improve his quality of life is enormous. Unfortunately, as we already know, it is also possible to make harmful use of the networks, and to contribute to misinformation and social chaos.

Daylin Pérez de la Rosa.  The networks have a very wide use which varies according to the social network and the interest of each person. Facebook, for example, is mainly used to contact friends; Twitter to share information on different topics; Instagram to share images and obtain acceptance. In general, the networks are used to maintain contact with friends, to find out what they are doing and to keep up-to-date with news and events of the day. The usefulness of the internet is based on the use that each person makes of it; for some that usefulness is just entertainment and contact with friends, or not; for businesses, enterprises and commerce, it functions as a platform to publish services and products, to win clients and followers. Its value depends on who produces it and the importance it has for each person.

Rafael Hernandez: How would you characterize the most frequent abuses that occur in the social networks? The most prejudicial? And to what would you attribute these?

Katia Sánchez. The social networks generate visibility to trademarks, creation of movements and political causes, immediate and direct connections, spaces for collective learning, for finding jobs; but also fake news, additions to the platforms, depression and problems among young people and children, identity theft, harassment, invasion of privacy of persons, organizations and governments, etc. Obviously, the fact that they are tools implies that they are not good or bad in themselves, but rather that they are conditioned by the use that human beings make of them, and they are more a reconstruction of our own society, with all its vices, than a new world. In Cuba, some of the most visible abuses have to do with the lack of regulation of these platforms; for example, children using the networks with consent of the parents (breaching the minimum age required for access), violence and gender bias, manifested not only at an individual level but also in organizational structures like the publicity of many trademarks (private and non-private); as well as the lack of civil rights related to communications technologies in general and the social networks in particular. For example, when access to one or several of these platforms is cut off in specific situations that put the political stability at risk, which affects consumption, production, online events and the whole connection of a country for hours or even days, without the citizenry being able to do anything about it except using the networks themselves later to complain from their own personal space.

Fidel A. Rodríguez. I think it is important to mention the hate and political show-downs in the recent well-known polarization, which in my opinion is highly marked by the algorithms of these commercial platforms.

The practices, talks and profiles in these platforms contaminate each other in a live ecosystem. If you see it that way, it is difficult not to see the influence on our network relations that can result from the investment by the Government of the United States of tens of millions of dollars in the creation of the means and the existence of groups of government workers of that country that design strategies for the transformation of Cuban society. Among other dirty tricks. And I say society, because they don’t only point to the State. Donations to religious fundamentalisms are public and to different types of associations.

There are some media and profiles, with or without established foundations, which pass the time at the end of the year naming children that have disappeared, in parallel and consecutive ways, among many other typologies of content that are emotionally conditioned to influence a specific public, for example. These actions go beyond the discussion about the right to exist—or not—of certain media or political attitudes. Because of their magnitude and characteristics, these activities will inevitably distort network coexistence.

On the other hand, the dues that the country has with regard to the construction of a culture of the rights of participation and the exercise of public and media life within the framework of a democratic and socialist project, manifest themselves more clearly when all these previously mentioned elements interact. In some cases, the preeminence of the national security perspective, of confrontation with the enemy, transforms itself into the only model of action for some sectors and institutions facing the different forms in which the exercise of opinion on citizen actions can manifest itself. So this leaves a number of voids for the institutions in their capacity to interact in these scenarios. In the majority of cases there is no strategic perspective, experience, tool or even procedural or legal obligation to enable the construction of a collaborative framework supported by individual or collective rights and capacities.

Looking at other topics, we have a digital space in which harassment, sexual fetishization of women and girls, the cult of vanity and egocentrism are issues that are alerting us to challenges that are very complex to solve in the middle term.

Darío Alejandro Escobar. The social networks, as I mentioned in my previous response, can also have harmful uses. If their use is unfamiliar, they can be transformed into small opinion and world-view bubbles that are alike and will contribute to the polarization of the public debates. This tribalization process, which is already transnational, can be used by powerful interests that seek political objectives in which reasoned, expert and serene opinions are not predominant. These processes contribute to the degradation of the public spheres of nations, and thus do a disservice to the proper functioning of democracies. Among the more prejudicial effects is the brutalization of ever larger groups on varying topics, as well as the intolerant attitudes of contrary or different opinions to those brandished by the leader or by the current of opinion dominant in the group in which one wishes to express an opinion. I attribute this to several factors: first, the very design of the algorithms of the social networks, which promote this type of behavior. The second factor is that the groups in power have an interest in achieving specific political objectives and use these social phenomena to obtain results. The third is the weakening of the democratic systems as we know them: ever larger masses of people question (rightly or wrongly) the deficiencies of the political systems in which they live and, of course, question their administrators.

Daylin Pérez de la Rosa.  The abuses in the networks are varied, from the scams of people who forge profiles, insult or steal, to discrediting a country, attacking it with insults and lies. Personally, I don’t believe that one type of abuse is more prejudicial than another, because all of them affect a person or a group of people. I think that we need to be capable of facing them in an intelligent way, and not respond in the same way.

Rafael Hernandez: Would it be desirable and possible to contribute to a better use of the networks? To make the users literate? Create a code of conduct?

Katia Sánchez.  It would be ideal if the social networks would convert themselves into ever more inclusive and democratic spaces, online sources of information and education; if they would be used as part of the digital transformation of the country. For example, in a situation such as the one we have today, with a pandemic, where the digital acquires prominence in various dimensions of our daily life—like school, relationships, and work. Certain aspects would influence this situation, like infrastructure and real access to web potential as indispensable tools of life in the 21st century. When I refer to real access, I mean that people can explore, upload data and in a general sense navigate through the internet beyond the well-known social networks, to contribute to their own education or search for opportunities. With the difficulties of slow, unstable and expensive connections, this is inconceivable for many people today. I think that literacy has to start in many ways from the very organizational structures, from the government exercising dialogic and digitally transformational communication, from the institutions and their services to the population and respect for the citizens, from the enterprises and their service to clients, from the press and the use of hypermedia and transmedia relations to be more attractive to users. Regulation in the social networks is necessary; we have already seen the abuses and even crimes that are committed in them. Regulate them, not by codes of conduct but understanding them as convergent spaces of public issues could help to decrease these crimes, frauds, plagiary, etc., in addition to (and I think that this is the most important part of the regulation) protecting the rights of the people and citizens in general. In the area of institutional communication, publicity should be regulated, figures like influencers and professions that derive from network use like community managers should be legitimized, which would place us in a much better position for the use that, in Cuba, we should and can make of the social networks.

Fidel A. Rodríguez. There is a lot to do and it is clear that it is a scenario that is full of urgency. As we have seen, there are processes associated with complex transformations in different sectors of Cuban social life. So there will not be a magical formula.

If we think of the exchanges in the networks as a specific agenda, we do actually need to work on a national literacy program for a digital lifestyle. That means much research, it means connecting many different kinds of knowledge and efforts that have not coordinated with each other, facilitating transformations in the teaching models. This is an idea that is shared by many, and that has many brilliant people working and pushing forward little by little. Those of us who feel a responsibility about this, we need to get it going together.

We have to build a management framework of participation in digital environments, which goes beyond the management of complaints, and invites people to collaborate, define, decide, execute, and evaluate the results of government management from these spaces; to take advantage of the data that users generate and project intelligent and innovative solutions. In this field there are also advances towards the Electronic Government Strategy, but there is still a lot to do. These actions should provide options so that our digital lifestyle and the deliberation of our future do not exclusively happen in foreign commercial platforms where we hardly have any rights.

We also have to regulate and legislate on our rights and responsibilities in order to speak and act in these spaces, at the national level, on the protection of our data and those of public interest, on our access to these. These norms are in the legislative timeline; it would be essential to be able to think about them and enhance them collectively. 

All of this forms part of a need that is also collective, related to citizens. And that, in these convulsive times, is to build a way to be together—digitally or analogically—which strengthens the common good and gives the future more cooperative beings who are less isolated in their individual interests. We have been able to achieve this during other periods in our country, without the tricks of these machines that I commented on at the beginning. And I want to believe that we can do it again.

Darío Alejandro Escobar.  Of course, if we want to improve our ways of living, learning, working and socializing over the next few years, we have to find a way to regulate things, not only through legislation but also from an ethical standpoint, so that information exchanges become liberating and useful. It is essential to put in place a digital literacy and ethics project in the national educational programs so as to get not only the consumers and managers of these telematic tools involved, but also citizens who are responsible within their communities. This is becoming an ever more important issue to be resolved in Cuba. I hope it will not be long delayed as that could be very costly in political, educational and social terms.

And I would like to add that without a real and profound democratization and socialization of the properties of the corporations that operate the hegemonic social networks, we will never get all that I have mentioned to work. These are macro-enterprises that reproduce the logic of capitalism and have no interest in modifying the essentials of their operating systems. Their principal objective is to generate and increase profits and to contribute to the consolidation of the dominant system at a world-level.

Daylin Pérez de la Rosa. I think the desire for a better use of the networks has to become a part of everyone that uses them. We need to be able to create a conscience about the correct use of the networks, and educate our youngsters. Adolescence is the key age in which the majority launch themselves into the digital social world. As youngsters are taught to eat using tools, to cross a street, to go up and down a staircase, etc., in order to avoid problems, they should also be taught to use the social networks in a secure and responsible way. The danger of social networks is not the networks themselves, but the use that is made of them. For many people it is difficult to differentiate between the real content and one that is not, to detect the intentions of the “follower” [sic], etc. Another consequence of bad usage is the addiction that it can cause among very young children, and so codes of conduct should be created, and children oriented in this issue starting from a very young age. Creating campaigns for good usage of the networks can be an option, so that from the mass communication media, the youngest children or those who are beginning to delve into the networks will know the benefits and the problems this may generate.

Rafael Hernández: We have heard the panelists’ comments on these five questions, and we will now let the participants speak; there are 83 of them today—a number equal to that which we could have in our usual room at the Fresa y Chocolate Center at 23rd and 12th streets. We thank you for having registered and for being informed about our panel.

We have received a considerable number of comments by psychologist, historians, newspaper journalists, bloggers, students in different fields, jurists, linguists, community researchers, entrepreneurs, computer engineers, etc., who come from different places: Havana, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín and Rosario in Argentina. Without further ado, we will let them speak.

István Ojeda Bello (Journalist, Periódico 26, Las Tunas): Thank you for letting me participate in this panel, which I have been following for years. From my experience as a journalist and citizen—which is not the same thing—I think that the social networks, from the etymological point of view, which is how we are looking at them here, have changed the social dynamic of Cuba considerably, and together we are still studying those effects.

As has happened with other tools associated with the internet, these networks came with a clear political slant, strongly influenced by the dynamic of our conflict with the Unite States in particular, and with the capitalist consumer society in general. This is a factor that we should not omit, and which has acquired great notoriety in the last few months. On the other hand, I believe that it changed the idea that the public had about their place in the communication process; it reinforced their vision of self-reporting, and transformed them into producers and broadcasters of their own contents.

Caridad Limonta: I have been a self-employed worker for more than twelve years, working as a fashion-tailor, but relating to the topic that is being discussed today, I want to comment on how the availability of the social networks can be better used and optimized. In this sense, in this country NGOs exist in almost all branches of the economy, and amass a great professional potential, like for example the Associations of Communicators, that of Economists, that of Engineers and Architects; and a large number of professionals has moved into the private sector, to work independently. Why do these organizations not use the social networks, and receive feedback? How many criteria and opinions can those who work in both sectors exchange, so that together we can offer options and alternative solutions? 

Osvaldo Santana Borrego: I work at the Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas (CIPS) and would like to thank the comrades at Temas magazine for the opportunity to participate in this discusson on the social networks. These networks can be seen as social structures composed of a group of players who publicize discussion topics with the objective of exchanging knowledge that enriches academic, professional, scientific and human activities; they become networks of knowledge exchange which, through their social imprint, respond to the historic context that determines them.

In a general sense, social networks have become a stream of information; they are media that have many different purposes, means of social participation, and one of their most visible features is their character of immediacy; therefore, they are a necessity in the real world, they are within the reach of society, and they penetrate into social reality as part of their aims.

As one of their values we could mention that they are a means to humanize results and experiences of life, of professional experiences, to share and talk about knowledge, an eminently cultural space, and a way to find possible solutions to work, cultural, social and economic issues.

Perhaps the abuse of the social networks is among the disadvantages, which can be fatal to the participating players, the limitation of the level of knowledge that is socialized through the networks, and especially the misinformation, the lack of ethics and the lack of objectivity of the contents.

How can we contribute to making better use of the networks? In my opinion, we need to make visible and make appropriate use of many of the tools of the instruction and learning process, based on the objectives of the social networks, from the educational point of view. We need to promote spaces of social and educational construction for cultural use, to conceive promotional strategies that allow for people to contribute with a sustainable use of the networks.

Lorena Gamoneda: I am a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Psychology, and my question deals with the influences in the social networks: What do you think of the new models and new communities that exist in the social networks, specifically Instagram and YouTube, based on influencers? What do you think this phenomenon is like in our country? What do you think really constitutes an influence in the social networks?

Leslie Díaz Monserrat (Journalist of the weekly Vanguardia and PhD student in sociology in the Centro de Estudios Comunitarios of the Central University of Las Villas “Marta Abreu”): For the sociologist Manuel Castells, what the Internet does is to process the virtual and transform it into our reality, making society the network, which is the society in which we live. In my opinion, the reach of these platforms and their capacity to draw us and draw our reality depends on three factors: in the first place the access to the internet and to these platforms. We know that in Cuba every day more and more users access the network of networks, and every day the country becomes more computerized. Therefore, there are ever more users that connect, and more so during the pandemic, when these platforms have acquired a utilitarian sense, since groups have appeared to exchange products, to locate medicines, make digital purchases or even to know where certain products are on sale. On the other hand, there is the connection time, of which professor Fidel Alejandro Rodríguez spoke. There are already users who organize their physical time according to their need for online time; there are some who have built a life on these platforms. Many, trapped in the bubble that filters them—for example the algorithm of Facebook—believe that the world consists only in what they can see in their part of the news, and they are surprised when they go out on the streets and find another reality. And the third element, one of the most important ones for me, is the digital culture, the capacity of a user to distinguish fake news, to know that what appears in their news section is not that accidental, the intelligence to not believe blindly in a certain person’s post, now that they are so fashionable, without first checking the information, corroborating it. We especially need a critical digital culture so as not to fall into a polarization that, from extreme postures, aims to irreconcilably divide society and destabilize it.

Miguel Ángel Toledo Méndez (PhD in Sciences, Full Professor in Psychology in the Villa Clara Medical Sciences University): My comment is directed at the use of the social networks as opportune channels of information and interaction in Cuban public health. In this sense, the social networks offer guarantees to Cuban public health, insofar as they allow the promting and positioning of the digital resources in an intentional way, the generation of original contents, the facilitation and monitoring of the interaction and feed-back of the users, the diversification of the communication channels with other health networks and among the users themselves, the building of scenarios for teaching and scientific exchange, as well as the strengthening of the collective and transdisciplinary building of knowledge. This implies a strategy that is oriented, among other essential aspects, towards selecting and producing contents of quality, planning publications, generating tendencies in an intentional way, using attractive multimedia resources, and sharing information.

The usefulness of the social networks for the Cuban health system consists not only in fostering horizontal communication, but also in detecting patterns and behaviors associated with the search, supply and exchange of information, favoring cooperative learning.

Zaida Fabars Abreu: I am a Journalism student at the Universidad de Oriente. I would like an answer to the following questions: How would you characterize the use of the social networks by the Cuban public? Which are the main social networks that are being accessed by the public and why?

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz: I am a journalist and LGBTI activist, as well as an assiduous user of the social networks. I want to thank Temas for this Último Jueves to which we have become accustomed, now being done in a very attractive format, because at least it avoids us talking for too long since in many cases we have to pay for the cost of the connection—which I think can be a sign of efficiency.

On this topic of the networks the first question really attracted my attention. If Martians would ask me, I would not tell them that these are social networks, but social tangles; truly it is a different way for us to relate to each other, which has changed our lives somewhat.

I thank the brilliant comments of the panelists and how they define these processes from the technical and communicational point of view. I think we will also have to go into it from the psychological and sociological viewpoint, because it is obviously changing even the way we are as people, as human beings. I think the Martians would be very moved to see us tied to a small device, in many cases with some kind of collective hysteria and a feeling of absence when the phone or the internet is not available right there.

I would like to ask three questions. The first—an old obsession as activist—deals with the participation in and the use of policies and politics in the social networks. Almost everything is political in life; even when we think we don’t do politics, or that we are apolitical we do have a political attitude, and at other times there are obvious and explicit political positions. So for you, what would be an efficient political use of the social networks?

And my second question has to do with the professionalization process of the use of the social networks, which is an international phenomenon. How is this becoming evident in Cuba? There are ever more people working for, because of, and in social networks. What skills would they need? Do we have enough people in these positions? How do you evaluate this process in the medium and short term in the country? What tools or instruments would be needed in order to make a better transfer of the professional skills, of the typical traditional professions, to this new context of social networks?

Isaac Cabrera Ruiz (Professor of Social Psychology at the Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” in Las Villas): I congratulate the panel for its comments and thank you for this opportunity to participate.

The panel has presented the uses of the social networks as a journey through its forms, and there is one which has revealed itself strongly during the pandemic, especially in the intellectual spheres. The restrictive measures that were taken put scientific research, especially as related to the social sciences: the dilemma of becoming paralyzed. Because of this, we are today coining terms like online research, and are using digital tools, which had already existed, but not with the usage practices that were developed in Cuba in 2020. Therefore, the internet as a social space will need a space for scientific research. What challenges does the use of the social networks pose for scientific research in Cuba? Will there be a sliding of social interventions towards the virtual spaces? Just to give an example, there are high levels of idle inventory which, by means of these NGOs which in some way are linked to state economic institutions, that could be put to use to the advantage of the private workers. However, in practice things do not work this way.

Franco A. Cuffaro: I am a lawyer in Argentina, recently graduated and starting my life as a professional. For me it is an honor to participate in these debates again.

I would like for the panel to comment on how the publishing on the networks of private images, for which no approval has been given, can be fought, stopped, eradicated. In my province, in my city, the people of my generation know of many cases when this type of images circulated, and year after year we get to know a new young woman or young man to whom this has happened. What can be done? I know that behind these actions there are lives being ruined. I am not a specialist in this field, but it seems to me that this is a phenomenon that needs to be taken care of, needs to be legislated, observed, in order to educate and fight it.

Susel Abad: MA in History at the Universidad de Holguín; Professor in that institution; Coordinator of the Articulación Juvenil por la Equidad Social [Youth Organization for Social Equity] at the Centro Oscar Arnulfo Romero since 2019 for this region.

This is the first time that I participate in this panel and I find the responses and arguments that were presented on the topic very insightful, as this is a subject that presents enormous challenges for our society today; it shows how much there is left to do with respect to the legal and educational aspects. It is true that the internet is not the problem—what is the problem is the reproduction of the stereotypes, canons, economic and social asymmetries of the capitalist system that have become embedded in the virtual universe.

With respect to the last question of the panel, I would like to know whether some strategy or campaign for the public good has been drawn up by institutions, organisms or enterprises in our country, especially the Telecommunications company (ETECSA) in order to promote a conscious use of the social networks. Practices that are harmful to the moral and professional integrity, as well as others, are very frequent, and this would be a very efficacious way to prevent or counteract them by sensitizing and educating people on a discriminating and respectful use of the social networks.

Beatriz Torres Rodríguez: I am a psychologist by profession, and president of the Multidisciplinary Cuban Society for Sexuality Studies. I would like to begin by applauding the nineteen years of Último Jueves; this is a demanding task, and more so when it is being done systematically.

I consider that we cannot, nor should, demonize the social networks, but rather see their challenges, all the learning we have done, especially in the current context of the pandemic. I will refer to two aspects related to my work: for example, the presence of cyber-bullying, of cyber-violence in the general sense, of which people—especially women, adolescents—have been victims, and the little knowledge there is about these risks, including what to do in the case of such situations. There are people who use fake profiles and establish a relationship with someone, they obtain personal photos and then extort, control, humiliate, and violate the rights of these people. Although our laws do not include specific elements related to these crimes, other categories—to say it in some way—can be used, in which complaints can be lodged and the rights of the person harassed defended. I repeat that it is important to speak of this in a general sense, of cyber-violence, cyber-bullying and a whole series of other types, and we have to educate in order to prevent—not only adolescents and young people: in my practice I also see women of middle age, including seniors.

Yoan K. Acosta (Professor of the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the Universidad de La Habana): I would like to point out that we sometimes forget to add the word digital when we refer to social networks. And it is important not to forget this because there are other types of social networks which preceded the digital ones, and they are also very important; in fact, a substantial part of the world is not yet connected to the internet.

I would also like to suggest that for the coming debates different perspectives could be considered: sociological, psychological, and linguistic, which would also have much to contribute—although the colleagues in communications have, of course, much to say, and work directly on these topics.

I would like for the panel to refer briefly to the ethical question of companies like Facebook, which we criticize harshly because they collect the users’ data. Their political usage is ethically questionable, for example, as Cambridge Analytica did during Brexit, or in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump; but many people even get frightened and avoid using the social digital networks because they may capture their data. However, the pertinent question is: If these data are not used for commercial purposes, how else can these enterprises be financed? Historically, newspapers in capitalist countries, for example, have been financed by commercial advertising. What would be the alternative? Is the commercial use of metadata ethically questionable?

Idalsis Fabré: I am a Researcher at the Center for Community Studies at the Universidad Central of Las Villas. On this broad and polemical topic I would like to share some concepts that I have worked on with my colleague Diana Rosa Rodríguez, on the impact that the networks have on the constitution of identities and symbolic universes, seeing them as spaces of socialization in which two essential processes of socialization, like internalization and control, converge exponentially, and hence the capacity they have to establish patterns on the building of subjectivities, including in those persons who do not have access to the networks.

Technologies, aside from the use a posteriori they may have, are born marked by the logic of the system in which they are produced, meaning that they carry an ideology, and reproduce it, besides the reinterpretations and refunctioning to which they may be subjected. We therefore believe that the study and analysis of the configurations that develop in these groups as a result of the influence of these networks are important, because their impact is fundamental in any society, but extremely important in the case of Cuba.

One of the biggest dangers of these networks lies precisely in what José Manuel Rodríguez defines as the “configuration of the autistic identities of post-modernity,” which are combined with a kind of socio-digital panopticism, in which the control-discipline-vigilance cluster is legitimized and internalized, and becomes invisible within the social networks. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman stated in relation to this topic: what scares me most is not the coming of a vigilant society, but that we are already living in one, without being concerned about it.

For Cuba this means big challenges which, among many other things, include technological sovereignty, equitable access, but above all, the ideological component, to which we have to pay close attention to the usage, management and people’s access to the social networks. And for this reason, I would like to hear the assessment of the panelists on what could be these creative, autochthonous ways—from Cuba and for Cuba—that could be put into practice in order to confront the inevitable challenges that I mentioned, and what would be the role that the institutions would have in this.

Yosley Carrero: I am a journalist with the Sistema Informativo de la Televisión Cubana [Cuban Television Information System] and collaborator in different media at the national level. What degree of political polarization do you believe the social networks scenario expresses in Cuba, and to what extent does this connect, or not, to people’s talks on the corner of a neighborhood or among a group of Cubans who—for economic, cultural or technological reasons—are digitally excluded and for whom being without the internet for 24 or 48 hours is not the exception, but part of their daily life?

If possible, I would also like to see some thoughts on what weight political communications carry in the social networks and how their efficacy can be evaluated, based in the institutions and governmental structures of the country.

And finally, I think that in some way, the digital platforms are spaces of identity construction and sense of belonging to Cuba for those that have migrated, not only through the relation that people can have with their friends and families on the Island, but also through the active participation in opinions of support, or sometimes not of support but rather of confrontation, on different topics in the economic, political and social agenda in Cuba. How do you read the country’s relation with its diaspora and its future participation in the decision-making processes, starting from what can be seen in the social networks scenarios, of course?

Jany Bárcenas: I am a Professor in the Faculty of Psychology at the Universidad de la Habana. I work in the field of the Psychology of Communications, and therefore I have found the responses of all the panelists to be very interesting and useful. I thank you for this timely topic, and congratulate Último Jueves for introducing it.

My first question goes to Katia, who works on the topic of institutional communications. I would like her to comment on the deficiencies and also on the challenges of institutional communications in Cuba. In the second place, she speaks of the influencers: is this a phenomenon that is developing in Cuba? I would like to know whether there are studies on this subject or if she could define the phenomenon of the influencers in Cuba, what is happening, and fundamentally what topics they deal with.

Finally, I would like to ask Fidel if he could comment on the psychological effects of the use of the social networks, based on the studies that have been done in the Faculty of Communications. There are some that are better known, like the effect of the online lack of inhibition, but what is happening based on their experiments and studies on this?

In the Cuban Society of Psychology we have a group of psychologists that is working on the Psico Grupos WhatsApp project. Through them we have given psychological guidance to the population during the months of the pandemic. It was a very fruitful experience, and many people told us that it was great doing it online, because if they had had to do it face to face or had to go to a psychology clinic to ask for such psychological guidance, they would not have done it. I would like them to comment, if possible, why this is so, and what their own experiences are.

Leysi Rubio: I am a journalist and co-founder of the Proyecto Espacios Interactivos. My question for the panel is how to develop the creation of new narratives in the digital space that would promote the participation and the interaction of our communities. For example, the production of podcasts in Cuba today shows us a super diverse niche of new sound narratives, which in turn echo through the digital communities and sometimes go beyond virtual space into physical space, and vice versa. In this context, how can we get these narratives to pay homage to the consolidation, integration and cohesion of our communities?

Lirians Gordillo Piña:  I am a journalist and I want first to thank Temas for having the topic of social networks on the table as a very current subject of interest, and also to thank the panel for their thoughts, which I think are very useful.

My first question is: what influence do you think the social networks are having, specifically as to how they do things, the kinds of conversations that are typical in these environments and in others of public communication, like journalism and political communications?

And the second question: how can we get information and tools to these networks that are perhaps more typical of journalism, but are indisputably also necessary in the social networks—like the comparison of and search for different sources, and the complex analysis of society? This is necessary, but interesting ways will have to be found to make them available to different publics, so that they will become daily practices in the social networks—taking into account that they are currently also an area of debate on public matters, and for understanding what Cuba is about.

Silvio Gutiérrez Pérez (Assistant Professor, Universidad de la Habana): I will try to present a brief evaluation of the most general economic impacts that the use of social networks can have. Among the most striking transformations that have occurred during the last few years, this point is one of the most original and most recognized by people. In this case, I just want to remind you that the great transnationals like Facebook, Google and others that dominate international communications, obtain extraordinary profits, which allow them to keep growing and innovating, systematically increasing their investments, and thus, their income.

During the last few years, and as we know, Cuba has also developed the use of the social networks. It is an investment like any other, and it is also among the most profitable in our economy, which will allow for its implementation to grow progressively. It is an expense not only for the country but also for businesses and for people, and which has favorable repercussions, not only from the point of view of personal satisfaction but also because it saves resources, transportation costs, and considerably reduces the cost of many of our activities, among them working remotely or teleworking.

I think we have to continue to work on our sovereignty, on developing our own computer products, which will allow us to avoid any action that at some point might be adopted related to the US economic blockade. This is another challenge we face, and I think that since we have generated the intelligence and will in our country, we are now in a position to do so.

David Tavares SEO of the digital marketing Agency JYD Solutions: I get the feeling that as we try to theorize about social networks in Cuba, we are distancing ourselves a bit, or perhaps a lot, from objective reality, from how people see the social networks and how they use them. The reality is that in Cuba the social networks arrived almost randomly. I remember the times of IMO [a Cuban messaging and calling application], which no one mentions any more. At the end, all tools are used to perform a function and that is where we need to go. I mean, more than teaching how to use Facebook, or Twitter, or which is the correct way to do it, or the things that we should not do, or how to identify fake news, which is all very well and necessary, the important thing is to realize that these tools are being used because in Cuba we don’t have any others to do this. If other tools would be available, ones that would take into consideration the needs of the Cuban people, they would obviously know the Cuban public better, they would have a better idea of how market relations work, of the needs that a person might have. So, I believe that the more practical and level-headed we are with the analysis of the social networks, the more of a real impact we can have in the national sphere. If we want to become experts in social networks, it is quite possible that we will not end up understanding how they work in Cuba and how they are used.

Raul Garcés: I am a journalist and university professor. I only have one opinion and one question. I believe that in the social networks we are seeing the communicative inheritance that we have earned; nothing surprises us. We probably have to adapt ourselves and live with new ways of thinking that inherit threats and opportunities of the world as it was before—threats in the sense that we inherit communicative practices that tend to be very vertical; we do not understand the grid logic of the new media, we inherit the absence of a culture of dialogue and debate. We decide to discuss, and we don’t listen to each other but we often launch into a “Tyrians and Trojans” type of attack, and that adds little to this culture of debate and to the finding of solutions, to discuss alternatives that could be enlightening for the paths that we want to follow.

All of this is obviously marked by a context of confrontational rationality between Cuba and the United States. The same attack logics that we have seen happening many times over in order to provoke unease—to provoke discouragement and social demobilization, to provoke some trend, subversion of a social order—can also be found in the networks, moved by some algorithms, stimulated by power centers, and surely also by the financing and associations that have been mentioned as part of the responses of the panel itself. This is a threatening scenario.

But there is also a scenario of opportunity. We have the opportunity to build another type of communicative practice which would be more plural, more horizontal, more participative, more democratic. We have the possibility to include more young people in this discussion, to include them in a participative space, in a public sphere in which they will feel more stimulated and which they control, and of which they form a natural part, like digital natives. So that in this sense, we also have the opportunity to take over and learn to build another type of political discourse and another type of general discourse within this public sphere, one that knows how to have a dialogue, that will try to listen to the other person, that will assimilate the diversity that exists, that understands that the other can disagree with me, but forms part of a public area and space that exists outside and independent of my will. To ignore that does not make sense; it is more important that we recognize it and that we proceed to build procedures that will be of use for all people involved.

Starting from this scenario I would ask the following question: What should we do? This has been mentioned in some ways in the comments, but I would like there to be a more integrated response, because we are not just talking about a communicative practice; in reality we are talking about a political practice. Can this be solved by a communications institute? Can the strategic management of communications be solved by a ministry of communications? What organizations, what social entities would have to be organized to solve and manage a new political practice based on communications? In any case, are we on the path to achieve this, or what strategy is missing in order to make progress on this issue?

Rafael Hernández: This is really a historic moment in the history of Último Jueves, because we have never had 21 comments on a debate, so not only have we had a large attendance, we have also had a great dynamic on the part of the public that accompanies us, and that has put a truly phenomenal quantity of problems on the table.

So now we turn to the second round of our panelists.

Katia Sánchez: This is the first time I have participated in Último Jueves, and I must say that I am delighted with the degree of understanding, seriousness and participation. I think these are very judicious comments and questions, which are leading me to reflect further.

I will respond to some, especially to those that are related to my field, so as to leave space for my colleagues on the panel.

Caridad—it is great that you mentioned the topic of associations and their relation with the non-state sector. I believe that there are still many links missing, both digital and physical, for the different sectors of the economy to work together more. Some small steps have been taken, like networks or collective spaces, but they are usually sectarian—to give it a name. We need to work much more to come together, always taking as a basis the project of the country we really want to build, our objectives as citizens and as economic agents, too. Doing this based in the social networks can be possible through training, through meeting places, conferences; that is to say, these are possibilities that the social networks give us and that we can use to also strengthen the networking, the coming together, the collective building among different people. For me, these associations also need training in the use of computers, of communication technology, not only to create these spaces, but also to improve their own presence, and their relation with their different publics, including the state and the non-state sectors.

Lorena—I think it’s up to me to respond about the influencers as a phenomenon in Cuba. In La Penúltima Casa (The Second to last House) we have worked on this topic quite a bit, taking into account, first, that this evidently exists as a universal phenomenon and, second, that in Cuba it has developed more and more, especially since the arrival of the internet through mobile data.

The concept of influencer can be compared to that of opinion leaders, digital in this case, who are not only recognized experts or artists or people with recognition in the physical space, as they were before or as they used to be, but also people who work in and manage a community on the internet and who have achieved authority in a specific area. An influencer is therefore a person who has a real power of influencing this community, this segment of the public, and this influence is of course attractive for the trademarks, as it can boost the consumption of certain products or services by this audience, that is, it can influence the consumption of its public.

How effective an influencer is does not depend on how large this community may be—although it may seem to be so, because we always allow ourselves to be dazzled by the numbers of the social networks, which are very misleading—but rather how capable the influencer is in mobilizing the community. The strategies of the influencers with the trademarks usually have the same characteristics as publicity campaigns.

In Cuba we are still improvising somewhat on this topic. There is a lot of ignorance and legal gaps. This in itself affects the legal recognition of these figures. However, they are of course more and more common, and it is by now something that cannot be undone and that I think will continue to grow.

Re: Zaida’s question: the main social network in Cuba continues to be Facebook; it is the largest and the most well-known, and there is also a phenomenon in the world that has made the audiences break up into other networks. For example, adolescents no longer use Facebook because their parents are on it, and they don’t want to coincide with them. So other platforms have been started that are more representative of these groups, that have more in common with them. However, in Cuba we have not had much experience with this mass access, and therefore these phenomena do not happen in a complete dimension, although it is true that we now see more and more Cuban users, for example in Instagram, in Twitter, in LinkedIn. There are others that generate more data consumption, like YouTube or Tik Tok—which I think is still blocked in Cuba—and their use, therefore, of course, is less.

I think that with the passing of time the platforms will diversify, though we can already see that the tendency is towards hegemonic platforms that do everything. Instagram, for example, which itself has four video formats—completely ridiculous—but what it is trying to do is monopolize this use more and more, and to get everybody to come into these main platforms.

Paquito—I will address your question, which has to do with what professionals who work in the networks should know a bit about—their professionalization. I think it is necessary to train the professionals who work in the mass media; it is not enough to know the tools, which is also very important, but we have to understand, for example, that when we work with the public we have to know about communications; when we work in sales, we have to know about persuasion and negotiation; when we work in journalism, we have to understand how people use the news formats today, and what type of tools to use, according to my profile as a journalist. It’s not a question of knowing everything; I can’t give you a list right now of general tools to use for the internet; for me it’s much more a question of specialization and that we can open the way to these professions, these competencies, this area of training—that we don’t stay on the surface, which is what is happening right now.

I worked in a newsroom, and out of the blue they would tell us: “We have to use audios and videos in the news so it’ll be more attractive.” The journalists in the newsroom would go crazy, because they were not prepared to do this using the platforms we had, which was YouTube and Facebook. So then why not train the journalists? Why not hire people who can work these special fields? It’s not only about knowing how to use these tools or the networks in themselves, but also having a broad profile spectrum. And that is done by having more areas of specialization, more people and more training.

Beatriz—I completely agree with you that we should not demonize the networks, nor should our approach to them start from fear or suspicion. Even in society crimes and inappropriate behaviors exist, and there are laws that protect us, but that are not infallible; and in the digital world negative attitudes and behaviors are duplicated and we need to know them better and regulate them. However, it seems to me that we also need to see the opportunity that having access to these platforms implies for us, in terms of professionalization, relations, expression, information, education—just to give a few examples—which suggest clear ways of progress and of developing our country socially and economically.

If we start speaking about politics—and this goes a bit further than your question, but this happens often in some of these comments—we are all doing politics, and the institutional role is sometimes lost in this effort to defend the Revolution from the campaigns or counter-campaigns themselves, which are purely political. In my talks to organizations I always say there is no better defense of the Cuban system than the efficiency of its institutions, its achievements in health, its good services to the citizens, providing feedback and taking decisions together. To do things properly is the best way to do politics, more than shouting slogans. This can seem very obvious to all of us here, but in practice we are not doing it in our institutions. And when we do, we dress it up, we garnish it with propaganda, often crass or unnecessary, and what this generates is noise and also rejection. If we are a different, unique country, so our social network institutions need to be unique, giving people the utility, the courage they need to orient themselves, to get informed, and to communicate with our institutional channels.

Fidel Rodríguez: These questions are many, and that is great. We would never have been able to sit down with people from all over the country in this space, and who would also have such a particular view of the world in each case.

David´s comments really attracted my attention; he shifts us into another thought system, and though we could agree or not, it speaks to us of how the world is seen from that circumstance, where apparently what is essential are the tools and not the sense and the use that we give them, which is different for everyone.

Communication is such a complex phenomenon that it has the privilege and challenge of belonging to all of us, and we all form part of it, and we all have the capacity of evaluating it. And this sometimes becomes a headache for those of us who work professionally in communications, but it also becomes an enormous advantage.  

 Part of the surprise of our relationship with this phenomenon is that we have hardly been able to sit down and think, including many of us that are here, that work together, that have experience in labor collectives—we have not been able to sit down and agree on where to channel our views on this issue. We need a broader frame of conversation in order to figure out where we are going, and this framework we already know is not in Facebook, nor in the type of spaces that fragment our ways of seeing, and create new forms of social ostracism. I think we need to work as a function of that.

That’s why I say that I don’t feel competent to respond to all the questions; it would be quite egocentric to believe that I can respond to them all, and that I have the elements to offer you some kind of path to follow. What we need to do as social mediators, it seems to me, is building a way to respond among ourselves, and I will review some of them and see whether I can shed some light.

The question about influencers is interesting, and goes in the same direction as others, because it is a very current topic, and when we look at the lists of the young men and women who have acquired this title, we are surprised to see another world, one of which we don’t form a part of somehow.

So, for example, the influencer can be especially a social agent who breaks the classic mediation on the public space that the media can have, and who reinvents the social connections, takes them into another system of relations, based on specific contents that he/she believes to be relevant. In this sense, the influencers are quite revolutionary and transforming figures, because they give us the opportunity to connect with other ways of speaking and shaping the world. But we already know that this is not enough. Here I’m connecting with what Katia said about the legal recognition of this social figure, because in the world there are some authors who—from a Marxist perspective —recognize the influencers as a form of labor, a form of reproduction of capital and of a systemic reproduction of the order of life relationships, in a thought process in which commercial platforms of digital social networks generate resources based on the data we provide, and these people are part of this system of data generation. So they form part of the global logic of the reproduction of capital and also of the forms of exploitation. They are exploited and exploiters, very complex figures, not only because of their capacity to reproduce specific ideologies, to be carriers of a value system, as we have already seen. In this sense, we need to think of how to create other figures of influence who will generate a new transformative, equitable social order of communicational exchanges; that they don’t become merely leaders and followers, and who will share the well-being and the goods that they will acquire, and more.

We have the duty to recognize what is happening with these characters and practices, of course, but also how it is happening, from a transformative sense.

For example, I have discovered that what we mean by tendencies in the social networks is something quite finite, and that changes in every scenario and every context. In some rural communities in Guantánamo, for example, the Todus application of instant messaging developed by the UCI [Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas, Habana – University of Computer Sciences], is very strong and widely used; it is the preeminent space of interaction. So why then should I assume there is a primary platform through which I have to talk, when this community has a specific need that can only be satisfied through a particular platform? The platforms are not exchangeable among themselves but rather they coexist like ecosystems, as we said before. There is much diversity in their use, and that does not mean that the one which is most used is the one that we should deal with. We have to see this in a transformational way because, for example, another very common practice is that of sexual and social relationships that are harmful to people, to women in the majority of the cases.

And this leads us to think about what role these visions that are being built have in this space, where we are going, what we can do if only one group is participating, and certain other groups do not have access to these definitions and are not taken into account when the time comes to form opinions and criteria in the long term—not only by institutions, where perhaps this view is different, but by all of us who participate in building the future of these small and large networks. We have to find the ways that will not only take us to that place where everyone can connect with each other, but that will also reinvent the ways in which we build the collective outside of these environments, which seems like a quite metaphorical space but constitutes a huge responsibility, and more so now, when a virus has taken other forms of socialization from us.

As Yosley pointed out to us, when we start thinking about the gaps, and we note ever more clearly the fragmentation to which the networks expose us, we realized that some social players have built a very intensive and have the notion that they are a uniform public sphere, and not multiple fragmented networks that sometimes are invisible among them, and among them the density of their exchanges is stronger when there is an event. I have high school friends, for example, who had not known anything about what was happening in the se last months until it was shown on TV, in spite of the fact that there have been very intense discussions in some of the networks in particular.

And this leads us to think about the functions that institutions have, whether they or the actors related to them could be agents of influence in rebuilding the webs of communicative relations; how we build communicative relationships or entities that become the medium that mediates among us, that generate ways to be in the network, not only to gain social legitimacy but to build consensus on the collective welfare in an equitable manner, give others a voice, connect voices. Somehow, this should be the role of the institutions, and also of those social narratives that we should begin to build. Become nodes of the collective projects to guarantee an equitable and participatory society. There are multiple ways to do this, but the way to connect the visions of the future should be a joint project. Regarding this vision we believe that the digital government agenda should include this dimension of interaction.  

We have many gaps in the connections between our knowledge systems, and I feel completely ignorant on how much psychology could help us in thinking about these phenomena. I invite Jany, and also the people of Villa Clara and Cienfuegos, who offered such a very interesting view, and those of the universities in Oriente, to sit down together, like we are doing now, in other spaces, to build a collective project to be able to think forward, so that the responsibility to think will not be left to a few, and so that no one will give us the script.

Every February 14th I used to challenge my students to talk about how we relate with each other sexually in the digital networks. It was an enormous challenge, of course, but we used to get very good learning experiences out of it, and we found that there is a very delicate situation in this area, with a close connection to those of us who want to be able to act in this scenario. And I say this in this rather vague way because we do not have a script, and I think we need to work on that.

Raúl, I can’t tell you what to do. I clearly feel that we have to place all the voices that are of concern to us on this point somewhere, and that anyway we need to start to act from our small spaces. We have already seen that everyone has a different view of the world, and in this sense we need to try and build a national framework of action like the one we shared earlier during the responses. These are my ideas; I probably talked a bit too long, but I hope my opinions have been useful to you.

Darío A. Escobar: I would like once again to thank the people who took the time to read the questions and answers, and send us their concerns. There were many questions, and it will be difficult to respond because there can also be many different answers.

I would like to speak especially on the topic of ethics, on which I spent some research time for my thesis. That is why I spoke of the need for there to be regulatory frameworks, and not only at the legislative level. Normally these frameworks fall much behind the technological advances, and Cuba, of course, is not the exception when we consider that it also arrived late to the use of social networks. However, I believe that we do have all the appropriate conditions, given the circumstance that during these years there has been an updating of the regulatory forms of the laws and of the political, civil and penal systems. But there also lies the most important gap: we still have not worked on the topic of ethics as we should have in the educational system, including that of the family, the communication media, and especially in the virtual world.

I agree with Professor Garcés when he says that we are paying for the gaps and consequences of previous circumstances. Of course, the Special Period brought a decrease in income, in moral values, and a cluster of complicated situations that are now being shown negatively in the social system, and that, of course, is visible in the social networks.

In the social networks there is also a transfer, somehow, of what happens in the physical world. As much as the users try to construct ideal, different personalities, certain aspects of their personality and physical circumstances do come out, and these asymmetries, which also include poverty, lack of values, prejudices, censure, verticalism, also manifest themselves in the social networks. To the extent that we as a society are capable of integrating systems that work on the assimilation and improvement of the society we have in the physical world, we can therefore also control these phenomena in the social networks.

I think that in the sphere of journalism and communications there has been quite a lot of progress during the last three years. This is no secret to many, especially in the academic and professional world, which for a very long time—perhaps a decade—advanced little in computerization and infrastructure. It is very difficult to have access, to learn and manage social networks if we do not have the physical technology to do this. In a country such as ours, underdeveloped, third-world, subject to a blockade and special economic circumstances, it has been very difficult, but also because for a long time some sectors of the Cuban political powers did not really trust the virtual world, having of course to deal with the way it was used by the great powers, especially by the United States, the Arab Spring, the use of the new technologies, etc. In this way we lost ground regarding the context in which we could have advanced. In this sense, I think that since President Miguel Díaz-Canel came to power, the use of social networks has accelerated notably, as well as their promotion not only for labor-related systems but also in the economic sphere, regarding electronic governance and commerce. This is important, but it is not enough.

I think it is important that we develop a critical digital culture, from the lowest level of society to the highest levels of government, because many of the leaders, or of the agents of change for socialist progress, who could be implementing the policies or rules for an improvement in the digital Cuban society are not prepared theoretically, nor do they have the professional and intellectual competency to implement this change. So there we have a complicated problem.

The exact same thing is happening in journalism; we have very advanced media like Cubadebate or Juventud Técnica [Technical Youth] which have developed in important ways during the past few years, but there are still many media with large infrastructures that have not assimilated the new transmedia narratives, in different formats, for new audiences; they have not assimilated what Professor Garcés called the grid.

During the time I was director of Somos Jóvenes [We are Young], we published an article about cyber-bullying; it has been quite a polemical topic during the last few years, and in Cuba it is starting to be discussed in the public sphere, especially by activists. Just a week or two ago, Alma Mater was also speaking of sexual practices, especially among young people. I think this needs to be studied by interdisciplinary groups connected to the Cuban regulatory framework, because in the next few years it is very probable that this topic will become more important—though hopefully not. The academy and governmental departments should be prepared not only to have an updated regulatory system related to this issue, but also—and as someone suggested—in order to design communication and education campaigns related to this.

I think that Yosley mentioned the small bubbles and the alternative realities that are being established in the virtual world as related to what is happening in the physical world. This is still a huge debate; as Fidel says, the systematized way of thinking about this is proceeding slowly and is complicated, especially because of the complexity of what is being discussed—that is, the relation between technology, society and culture, the uses of the networks, their relation with the market, with politics, etc.

In Cuba the digital gap is still wide, but it has become smaller quite quickly during the past few years. Anyway, the social usage of the social networks as entertainment also has to do with politics. Although people still come into the social networks in a solitary way—and because they have small incomes only every so often—this will increase dramatically, and we have to remember the political issues, because though people spend little time in the networks, these can drastically influence social events. I mentioned that it is very easy to create centers of dominant opinions on every kind of topic, which could be very dangerous for social development, especially taking into account the events of the past few months. That is to say, the fact that a group of people in San Miguel, or in Guanabacoa, or in Regla, are not interested, or apparently not interested in what happened in front of the Ministry of Culture does not mean that it is not important for the country. And it does not mean that this small event, which has to do with young intellectuals or artists, or with specific governmental groups, will not have an influence in a successive chain of events. I believe that somehow audiences and the people have some sort of awareness about this, though it is sometimes difficult to decode it.

Rafael Hernández: Many thanks to our panelists, who have risen to the challenge of the numerous comments and the very interesting problems that have been presented in this extraordinary session of Último Jueves.

In closing, I would like to make some brief comments. First, it is evident that with the networks we also have the problems associated with their development; what for some time consisted in getting access to the internet has now become being able to get mobile data or a Wi-Fi connection; getting information through analogic media through the press, TV, radio, has become being able to access the internet, and having access to the networks has become being able to figure out this ocean of unequal, uncertain, chaotic and enormous information, and the opinions that go with it.

As Garcés said, what is happening in the networks now were problems in communications that we already had, and I would say they are problems that are still there, have been there and will be there in education and in political culture. And here we would have to differentiate between the challenges presented to ideology by the networks and other media, I mean, the networks as an ideological problem, and the problems posed to the political culture, which are two different dimensions. For example, if we take the issue that was posed in one of the questions regarding the codes of conduct in the networks, this is not equivalent to ideological control, but to the development of a culture of digital media. The codes of conduct in the network and the debate related to this are not an attempt to control the liberty of expression through the Ministry of Thought, as Orwell said, and as some libertarians see it, but a legitimate concern present in the agenda of countries that don’t exactly identify with totalitarianism, as is the case with the European Union—that is to say, it is a cultural problem.

My second general observation has to do with the way we represent ourselves. Are we Martians in the use of the networks? Are we strange? What is happening to us with the networks, does it not happen to anyone else? Or is it that not everywhere politics is being done, organizations are promoted, messages and news, pictures and videos, ideas and anti-ideas—if we can call them that—are reproduced, using these networks, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram? We are already connected to these outside networks, which have the same virtues and the same vices that we experience here, because we have stopped being compartmentalized in what we say and hear inside and what we say and hear outside. That line has ceased to exist, and it is necessary that once again we become aware of this, in order to realize that we are in the world, that we have stopped responding to the somewhat caricaturesque representation of Cuba as a world apart, a strange and rare thing.

My third observation is the following: As we face these problems, are we going to follow the example of other socialist countries that some take as models in economic development, and where Facebook and Google are blocked, seen as something evil? Or are we going to learn to use the digital networks to make policies and to transform the scope of the media, and to transform the civic and cultural policies?

Let me propose a historical example. Television and radio in 1959 had very particular characteristics, which could be compared to how the networks are seen in 2021. The language and the standards both on television and on radio then were very, but very, capitalistic. However, they did successfully adapt to the needs of the revolutionary change, of the social, cultural and political transformations that the Revolution brought with it. This process was able to incorporate intelligently and politically efficiently the radio and television created by capitalism in Cuba, and it did so in a brilliant, advanced way. So, can’t the digital networks today to the same thing?

So it is with these questions, and with the many other questions that the participants and the panelists have raised, that I want to thank you all for having been in this link. I think that this is the panel of Último Jueves that has gone the furthest and that has had the most intense participation and of the best quality. Very many thanks to all for being here.

Traductora: Catharina Vallejo

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