September 12, 2019 / 5:07 PM / 5 days ago

Twitter blocks accounts of Raul Castro and Cuban state-run media

HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. social media company Twitter Inc has blocked the accounts of Cuban Communist Party Leader Raul Castro, his daughter Mariela Castro and Cuba’s top state-run media outlets, a move the Cuban Union of Journalists denounced as “massive censorship”.

FILE PHOTO: Cuba's First Secretary of the Communist Party and former President Raul Castro (L) talks with Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during an event with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) at the Capitol, in Havana, Cuba July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Fernando Medina/File Photo

Dozens of accounts of journalists for Cuban state-run media as well as the official account for the Communications Ministry were also blocked in the crackdown late on Wednesday.

Asked to comment on the suspensions, a Twitter spokesman said that the company’s platform manipulation policies prohibit users artificially amplifying or disrupting conversations by using multiple accounts.

The Cuban Union of Journalists said Twitter had suspended individual accounts in the past which had been recovered.

The move came as President Miguel Diaz-Canel was addressing the nation on state-run TV, warning of an energy crisis due to U.S. sanctions.

“What is new here is the massive scope of this act of cybernetic warfare, clearly planned, that aims to limit the freedom of expression of Cuban institutions and citizens and to silence the leaders of the revolution” it said in a statement.

Social media companies globally are under pressure to stem illicit online political influence campaigns.

Cuba is a one-party state where the government has a monopoly on public spaces and traditional media. While the top state-run media outlets have different profiles, they frequently publish similar if not identical articles.

Many Cuban state media, journalists and officials limit themselves to retweeting official statements. Government critics complain of “cybercatfishes”, fake accounts pretending to support the government and attacking those who do not.

Some independent Cuban journalists chided officials for complaining of censorship when they indulge it at other times.

“Official Cuban press discovers ‘freedom of expression’ thanks to Twitter,” wrote 14ymedio, the digital news outlet run by prominent dissident Yoani Sanchez.

“The censors get censored!,” exclaimed Coco Fusco, a Cuban-American artist.

Cuba was featured on the list of 10 most censored countries worldwide released this week by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), headquartered in New York.

Independent journalism in Cuba is tolerated but not legal and the websites of several alternative outlets that are critical of the government are blocked on the island. Locals must use virtual private networks to access them.

“That the Cuban government censors is not an excuse to carry out censorship (against it),” said Elaine Diaz Rodriguez, founder of independent Cuban news outlet Periodismo de Barrio, condemning Twitter’s move.

FILE PHOTO: Mariela Castro, a lawmaker and director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), National Assembly member and daughter of Cuba’s President Raul Castro, speaks during a news conference in Havana, Cuba, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

“And that the Cuban government creates false accounts does not mean all of its accounts are false.”

Long one of the world’s least connected countries, Cuba has been rapidly expanding web access in recent years, introducing mobile internet last December.

Cuban officials piled onto Twitter last year after Diaz-Canel opened an account and called for them to be more in touch with the people.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Additional Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in San Francisco; Editing by David Gregorio

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