Social media can be a force for good, and that’s not something you hear frequently in today’s world. While the perils of social platforms, including censorship, are being hashed out in the global public square, American social media companies are catalyzing much-needed change around the world.
Right now, 90 miles from Key West, a social media-fueled awakening is ripping apart one of the last hardline communist regimes left on the planet. There’s little doubt the protests in Cuba are happening because of a brutal government and a crashing economy worsened by the pandemic. But it’s really access to social media that has helped ignite the possibility of change that’s 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 took Cuba by storm: Suddenly, the Cuban people saw a world far beyond what they saw firsthand daily. This grassroots movement leveraged the power of social media connectivity to demand fundamental human rights from their autocratic, repressive government.
Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms gave Cubans and the entire world a chance to see and hear what’s really happening on the ground. For six decades, the Cuban government waged an expert public relations campaign to paint the country as some sort of socialist utopia. From Europe to South America, many people across the globe bought this manufactured reality that bears no resemblance to what life is really like on the island.
Social media gave everyone a real-time glimpse into authentic Cuban life, and it’s a very ugly picture. We can see firsthand accounts of protesting Cubans being persecuted, arrested and killed by the never-ending Castro dictatorship.
Social media can be a force for good when it connects like-minded people, which is a crucial factor the Cuban government failed to realize when it allowed everyone to log on. Most repressive countries on par with Cuba have blocked social media use among 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 had the means to pay – or, more commonly, had family sending money – for the internet to live reasonably normal social media lives. So, in a way, the communist government accidentally let the genie out of the bottle.
Americans freely discuss the perils of social media. And we have the right and freedom to critique our platforms of public discourse. But the overshadowed discussion? 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 see reincarnations of these types of events across the world.
It’s only logical to sound the alarm about the dangers of social media — including censorship and pay-to-play strategy.
But these platforms still play a crucial role in promoting freedom and democracy. In places such as Cuba, social media has become a place for citizens to air their grievances. Where a small protest created a spark, social media allowed them to amplify their movement on a global scale.
Without a doubt, social media can elevate extremist voices, lies, demagoguery and division. But when regulating it, we shouldn’t ignore that interconnectivity often leads to great outcomes. In dire situations like the one in Cuba, these platforms provide something absent from the island for decades: a check on power.
Cuba isn’t the beginning or the end of this phenomenon. People will continue to employ social media in their movements. So, what is America’s role? Policy changes we make in this country will percolate throughout the world. If we regulate social media to the point that it’s no longer competitive, we will stifle the possibility of being a force for good.
Congress should tread carefully 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 our innovators have created will continue to be a global communication hub 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 non-profit media company dedicated to entrepreneurship and cultural empowerment. Hannah Buczek is the managing editor and journalist for Bold TV. She also reports and edits for GenBiz, a non-profit media brand focused on promoting financial freedom.