Showing posts with label censorship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label censorship. Show all posts

Friday, November 1, 2013

Eliécer Ávila and Operation Truth -- who is on the payroll?

Freedom House issues an annual report on freedom on the Internet. This year they rated 60 nations and Iran was the only nation rated as less free than Cuba.

One of the factors they consider in their ranking is the use of pro-government commentators to manipulate online discussions. We have learned of the extent of that activity from Eliécer Ávila.

In 2007 Ávila was a student at the prestigious University of Computer Sciences of Cuba (UCI), where he asked some embarrassing questions of Ricardo Alarcón, then President of the Cuban National Assembly. Ávila asked about travel and hotel restrictions, the economy, government transparency and the Internet.

(You can see video of the exchange between Ávila and Alarcón here. Ávila's remarks on the Internet begin at the 15:25 point).

While that video received considerable attention at the time, it is not as intersting to me as a conversation this year between Ávila and Yoani Sánchez. (An English language transcript is available here).

Ávila describes Operation Truth, which he worked on while a student at UCI. He outlines the scope and organization of the project -- a thousand students are active in social networks, where they write posts favoring the government and work as "trolls," disrupting discussion and attacking those who question the government.

This leads me to be a little paranoid -- wondering who might be on the Operation Truth payroll. One person who comes to mind is Walter Lippmann, who founded and moderates CubaNews, a Yahoo Group.

When I started this blog, I discovered CubaNews and joined the group. I posted a few things, including a link to a report I had written on the state of the Internet in Cuba. Walter commented on my posts -- arguing and changing the subject -- like a troll. Nevertheless, when I posted something on this blog, I also sent a link to the CubaNews group.

Those links also generated rambling disagreement from Walter, and finally, he stopped sharing my submissions. For a while, he posted trollish comments on my posts on this blog, but, after I replied pointing out that I posted his comments, while he censored me, he stopped. I have no way of knowing whether Walter is subsidized by the Cuban Government or anyone else, but his censorship and argument tactics make me wonder.

Do you know of others who might be Operation Truth trolls?

Update 10/0/2013

In an attempt to identify government-connected bloggers, dissident brothers, Luis Enrique and José Daniel Ferrer planted a fake story in a phone conversation that they assumed would be tapped. Read about it here. While it is possible that those who published or knew about the fake news could have heard it from others, it is clear that the brother's phone call was monitored.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Yuma stay home!

Wow -- it is sad to read that professor Ted Henken is persona non grata in Cuba as a result of his conducting interviews of Cuban bloggers. I don't want to be political in this blog, but since his research was Internet related, I will say a few words.

I've never met professor Henken, but his writing makes it clear that he is not partial or one-sided. He says he is "against both blockades -- that of the US against Cuba and that of the Cuban government against its own people." That reminds me of a colleague who was at Radio Marti several years ago and told me that he knew he was doing his job well when both sides were angry with him. Nothing that is interesting is black or white.

I have much less Cuban expertise or experience than Professor Hencken, and have not been to Cuba for over ten years, but my experience at that time was one of openness. There were no bloggers at the time, so I had to talk mostly with the establishment. I met technical people, policy people and a few underground hackers during my trips to Cuba. I was watched. The people I met knew who I was and had read things I had written. They knew I had published reports for the "evil" Rand Corporation. Still they treated me with respect as a professional who had no political axe to grind.

One might argue that Henken's treatment was because he lied by traveling with a tourist visa. But, I don't think he would have had a problem if he had been doing interviews for a pro-government newsgroup like CubaNews, in which the majority of the contributions are by Walter Lippmann, who lives in the US and travels extensively in Cuba.

Evidently, the increased visibility and importance of the Internet has caused a tightening of control. Perhaps I would no longer be welcome in Cuba either.