Social media can be a force for good, and it’s not something you hear frequently in today’s world. While the dangers of social platforms, including censorship, are being swept into the global public arena, America’s social media companies are catalyzing much needed changes around the world.
Right now, 90 miles from Key West, a social media-fueled revival is tearing apart one of the last die-hard communist regimes on the planet. There is no doubt that the protests in Cuba are happening because of a brutal government and a plummeting economy made worse by the pandemic. But it was really the access to social media that helped trigger the possibility of change that is so desperately needed in Cuba.
The seeds of this citizen revolution were sown two years ago, when the Cuban government finally introduced 3G cell phone service. The internet and social media have taken Cuba by storm: suddenly the Cuban people saw a world far beyond what they saw on a daily basis. This grassroots movement has harnessed the power of social media connectivity to demand basic human rights from their autocratic and repressive government.
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms have given Cubans and the whole world a chance to see and hear what is really happening on the ground. For six decades, the Cuban government has waged an expert public relations campaign to portray the country as a sort of socialist utopia. From Europe to South America, many people across the world have purchased this fabricated reality which is nothing like life on the island.
Social media has given everyone a real-time glimpse into authentic Cuban life, and it’s a very ugly picture. We can see firsthand accounts of Cuban protesters persecuted, arrested and killed by Castro’s endless dictatorship.
Social media can be a force for good when it connects like-minded people, which is a crucial factor the Cuban government missed when it allowed everyone to connect. Most repressive countries comparable to Cuba have blocked the use of social media by their citizens. It’s no surprise that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t allow most Western social media platforms. But the Communist Party of Cuba allowed Cubans who could afford to pay – or, more commonly, whose families had sent money – for the Internet to live reasonably normal lives on social media. So, in a way, the Communist government accidentally let the genie out of the bottle.
Americans freely discuss the dangers of social media. And we have the right and the freedom to criticize our public speech platforms. But the discussion eclipsed? Social media is the catalyst for many movements in modern global society. We all saw what happened in the Middle East 10 years ago with the Arab Spring. We were more invested in Israel and Palestine because their conflict was on our news feeds and Explore pages daily. And we are seeing reincarnations of these types of events around the world.
It makes sense to sound the alarm bells about the dangers of social media, including censorship and the pay-to-play strategy.
But these platforms still play a crucial role in promoting freedom and democracy. In places like Cuba, social media has become a place for citizens to voice their grievances. Where a small protest created a spark, social media has allowed them to scale up their movement globally.
Without a doubt, social media can raise extremist voices, lies, demagoguery and division. But when regulating it, we should not ignore that interconnectivity often leads to great results. In dire situations like Cuba’s, these platforms provide something that has been missing from the island for decades: control over power.
Cuba is neither the beginning nor the end of this phenomenon. People will continue to use social media on the go. So what is America’s role? The policy changes we make in this country will spread around the world. If we regulate social media to the point where it is no longer competitive, we will stifle the possibility of being a force for good.
Congress should be cautious in regulating social media and focus on keeping the space competitive, ensuring that all voices – liberal, conservative, moderate and everything in between – are heard. The whole world is watching. And the platforms that our innovators have created will continue to be a hub of global communication for the foreseeable future.
David Grasso, a Cuban American, is the host of the Follow the Profit podcast, where he shares simple ideas for financial success and lessons learned the hard way. He is also the CEO of Bold TV, Inc, a nonprofit media company dedicated to entrepreneurship and cultural empowerment. Hannah Buczek is editor and reporter for Bold TV. She also reports and edits for GenBiz, a nonprofit media brand focused on promoting financial freedom.