The long-term effect of recent Cuban protests augmented by the internet


Neither Facebook tweets and video clips, nor the repetition of tired slogans from Granma are likely to convince many Cubans to change their minds.

It has now been more than six weeks since the Cuban political protests and the disruption of internet service that accompanied it. Will they lead to a long-term change in the Cuban Internet or in the Cuban political situation?

Let’s start with the Cuban Internet. Many changes on the Internet during the protests have disappeared. Total daily traffic, mobile / landline, and human / automated traffic ratios, and the proportion of blocked Signal sessions are roughly where they were before the protests.

But not everything is the same. Before the protests, tech-savvy Cubans used the Psiphon VPN service to access content blocked by the Cuban government. In the ten days leading up to the protests, Psiphon averaged 17,285 unique daily users. During the protests, daily users peaked at 1.425 million on July 16, and then began to decline. However, he did not return to the pre-protest level. For the 13 days shown here, the average was 109,429 unique users per day, more than six times the number in the run-up to the protests.

Keith McManamen of Psiphon said that this type of retention — basic 5x-10x — is typical of their experience in other countries and that Cuban usage intensity — bytes / single user / day and sessions / user / day – returned to pre-protest levels. Since access to Psyphon is slow and internet access is expensive in Cuba, around 90,000 new users need to be motivated.

Another discontinuity of the Internet is the existence and continued growth of a archive of images and videos of events. There were 219 documented protests as of August 6, and today there are 281. These records may inspire future discontent, or they may be used to identify and prosecute protests. Either way, it will be available to historians and political scientists, either at its current URL or, if removed, on the Internet Archive. (By the way, the first historical protest archive that I know of contains all Usenet traffic during the protests against the 1991 Soviet coup attempt, and it is still available online).

There is also speculation that the protests triggered or accelerated the new internet regulations, announced on August 17. Regulations treats online content as a potential security threat and prohibits the “dissemination of false news”, “slander which affects the prestige of the country”, “incitement to demonstrations”, “the promotion of social indiscipline” and undermines the reputation or self-esteem of someone. The government has also set up a Website for citizens to report violations—Crowdsourcing 1984.

Cuba has had protests before, but the protracted nationwide protests that began on July 11 were a product of mobile internet access, which began to roll out in 2018. The protests led to the changes. Internet mentioned above, but will the Internet be the cause of long-term political or social change?

I suspect not.

Cloudflare Reports that in the last 30 days, 70% of Cuban traffic came from cell phones and 30% from landline computers, as was the case before the protests. In addition, the majority of fixed traffic comes from workplaces where access is controlled and easily monitored. Therefore, most political traffic is to and from cell phones, which means the messages are short and divisive – government supporters speak up and reinforce the beliefs of other government supporters, and the same is true for the protesters. (There are many beneficial internet applications in business, science, healthcare, education, entertainment, etc., but they usually depend on fixed internet).

I don’t know what percentage of Cubans support or oppose the government, but neither Facebook tweets and video clips, nor the repetition of tired slogans from Granma are likely to convince many Cubans to change their mind. A reasoned and long argument on the fixed Internet can be a little more persuasive, but things like money, power, organization, demographics, negotiation and compromise and exogenous factors like climate change, COVID or the political and economic decisions made in China will determine Cuba’s political and economic future, not the mobile Internet.


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