Will Social Media Absolve Him?

By: Gina Bruno

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On his first voyage in 1492, Christopher Columbus “discovered” what he described as the fairest island human eyes have yet beheld. This fair island was known by many names: Juana, Cubanacan, Cubao, The Pearl of the Antilles, Cuba. Centuries later, a young lawyer turned revolutionary overturned 500 years of colonization and outside influence, and on January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro declared victory in the city of Santiago de Cuba, forever making Cuba synonymous with a new word: revolución. However, like most revolutions, things got complicated, in Cuba’s case, an ideological clash against imperialism meets Communism meets, well, a 50-year embargo imposed by the United States. In 1961, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Fidel communicated to his people through his state-run Radio Rebelde broadcast, saying, “And do they think they can hide this from the world? No! Cuba has a radio station that is already transmitting throughout Latin America … We are no longer in the age of stage-coaches. We are in the age of radio and the truth can travel far and wide!” Cuba was on the cutting edge of social media. How could Fidel have ever predicted the Kardashian selfies of 2016?

Whether he likes it or not, a lot has changed in the world during the decades Fidel has kept his people locked under state-run media. And while the vast majority of Cubans have not had free access to social media, or, Internet for that matter, the world has, and now, with Cuba in the middle of a historic thaw with the United States and being the top destination on every American mind, Americans had the unique opportunity to experience Fidel’s island from two unlikely lenses: the Kardashians and Chanel. To put it simply, it was a weird trip. Chanel showcased his Resort collection on Havana’s famous avenue, Paseo del Prado, a collection that was inspired by the heyday of glamorous, wealthy Americans travelling to the Caribbean for vacation. To make this painful irony worse, the show was opened strictly to VIPs, leaving Cuban citizens frustrated, isolated and held behind police lines, separating the have and the have-nots, the bourgeoisie from the proletariat.

Meanwhile the Kardashian sisters, Kanye and North West in tow, who were there expressly for the Chanel show, gallivanted around Havana, fetishizing it all over social media as most tourists are prone to do. However, not everyone was happy with the posts on Instagram. Khloe Kardashian particularly stirred up her followers with one photo of her against a wall with “Fidel” written behind her, followers commenting that her photo was like “posting a Hitler banner.” Meanwhile, in a second photo, Khloe posted against another wall, but this time, Photoshopped the graffiti that read, “Viva la Revolución,” reducing it to a blur, prompting her followers to comment, “Why did you Photoshop the “viva la revolucion” away? That’s what Cuba stands for.” Talk about ideological divides. Kim’s photo of a street lined with vintage cars was captioned, “…Being away and living in the moment having no phone service was so amazing! We felt like we stepped back into a different time period … Thank you Cuba!” Kim’s post sparked controversy with South Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a staunch opponent of the Castro regime, who exclaimed, “”Now, the Kardashians are parachuting into the island to tape their vapid TV show … haven’t the Cuban people suffered enough?”

As more and more Americans hit the Cuban scene and more and more Cubans gain access to the outside world through social media, the contradictions and controversies will continue to run deep. During Obama’s visit to Cuba in March, Raúl Castro made a rare show of answering questions at a press conference, in which he denied Cuba’s detention of political prisoners. During the press conference, Raúl Castro declared, “After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners, and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends,” which was quickly followed by a flood of names being listed on Twitter by journalists from Cuba and overseas. Between Chanel, the Kardashians, and the names of political prisoners being openly listed on Twitter, Raúl has to wonder whether opening his island to free, limitless Internet and the warming relations with the United States will work in favor of his revolution. I just hope that when he figures it out, he shares his thoughts with us with a quick tweet.

Social Media: Successes + Failures

By: Junelsy Sánchez

Social media has become the fastest growing information and entertainment outlet of all time. Booming in the present generation, it has become a place where not only are people able to learn of what’s going on half way around the world but they can do so without having to wait all day for the local news. Another thing that does not wait is their reactions; opinions on how the news affect them, how it makes them feel and what they want to do about it flood into the comments section of every known platform. There have been various movements that have started on social media and others that have used the different outlets to increase their reach. Information moves very quickly through social media and this can be both good and bad. On one hand, the audience creates their opinion based on what they hear first. If the information made available is not complete or factual, this creates bigger problems than a simple disagreement. Once opinions are publicized, it has been made difficult for someone to change their position regardless if they acknowledge they did not have complete information. However, people still react to news on a first come, first speak sense. As soon as they hear a certain piece of news they go online and make their opinions public. For example, I once saw the header of an article that read “RIP Jim Carrey” while the actor is still alive and well. I went straight to twitter to see if other people knew about it or if they had posted anything related to what I thought were horrible news, given my admiration of his work, and as it turns out the news was false.

On the other hand, making something go viral can make the story/event peak and hinder any significant progress. Movements like the Gezi protests in Turkey had their 15 seconds of fame but when was the last time we heard anything related to the topic? How about the Arab Spring? Another fail of a social media campaign was the NYPD’s #myNYPD campaign. NYPD asked people to share photos of themselves with friendly police officers; however this backfired when people posted pictures of police brutality instead. An additional negative side to social media is that it can be used for propaganda of the wrong kind. Organizations like ISIS have used their presence online to instill fear in the public.

According to Hamza Shaban, “what ignites digitally augmented movements at the beginning undermines them in the end.” Setting up a revolution through social media does create a heightened ability to grab a bigger audience but it takes away from the careful thought process and building of any actual organization. Some may see this rapid spread as an advantage but we can’t deny that it makes it more personal to deal with people face to face, to be able to express thoughts and opinions out loud. There is only so much that can be discussed online when and where there is also the idea of censorship.

Social media can shift the focus of the conversation but it hasn’t been too successful in yielding actual changes.

Articles used/researched:

Hamza Shaban “How Social Media Can Weaken a Revolution”

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/twitter-makes- it-easy- to-start- a-revolution- without-finishing- it

Zeynep Tufekci “Social Movements and Governments in the Digital Age: Evaluating a Complex

Landscape.” http://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/files/2014/12/xvii-18_Tufekci_Article.pdf

@TheRevolutionary

By: Bronson Diallo

Modern media platforms are fast, accessible, informative, and all encompassing.  With television, text print and radio broadcasting cycling on a twenty-four hour basis, stories from around the globe are collected by news media agencies and conveniently delivered directly to their large audiences.  While these agencies are the means by which a great percentage of news is accounted for and viewed, the stories in question are in fact presented by way of a filtered lens.  What we see and how we see it, for decades, was determined by the news agency—resulting in censored, whitewashed, and altered stories at the hands of marketing teams, governments and a myriad of other forces working in the interest of high ratings and politically acceptable material.  The Internet, and its operation by average individuals brought forth a new realm of communication—a place in which the masses could archive information, and communicate with one another on a large scale—the Internet proved itself to be a platform that provided the same service that media news agencies had provided for decades prior.  Since the Internet’s introduction to wide public usage in the late 1990s, its use has been greatly applied to large scale political movements across the globe—as people living under oppressive regimes prone to censoring their nation’s domestic and imported media found their footing on the web—utilizing the space to communicate thoughts, and organize gatherings that may be deemed illegal in their home nations.  This was most recently and notably evident during the recent and ongoing Arab Spring.  

In the 2000s, social media—or platforms that cater to personalized accounts pertaining to individuals, businesses, and other organizations—granted its users means by which they could express opinions unique to who they are as individuals, as activists, etc.—and so too could larger organizations by way of a confined Internet space (a personal page.)  One website in particular, Twitter, has proven itself as the ideal space for quick communication to a large audience.  A study launched by the University of Washington revealed the following: that, “During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubaraks resignation, for example, the total rate of tweets from Egypt — and around the world — about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day.  Videos featuring protest and political commentary went viral – the top 23 videos received nearly 5.5 million views. The amount of content produced online by opposition groups, in Facebook and political blogs, increased dramatically” (Catherine O’Donnel, University of Washington).  Across North Africa and the Middle East, an entire generation of social media users took to the Internet to voice opinions that had been silenced for so many years before.  

Even for those who do, or did not, use a personal social media account such as Twitter exclusively or extensively at this time in the Arab World, the accessibility of the content circulating throughout the social media-scape was still available for viewing.  As seen in Tunisia in December of 2010 (there first days of the revolution), and further into 2011, while “less than 20 percent of the population uses social media…almost everyone has access to a mobile phone.”   While 80 percent of Tunisians may not have engaged with social media directly or as contributors, their usage of their mobile or smart phones ensured that they could view the content that those who were tweeting, filming, and posting to the information feed—informing them of gatherings, protests, and other activities concerning the Spring.  

Social media has had remarkable implications in the current state of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq among other nations.  As such a greatly tumultuous time is upon the Middle East and the rest of the world included, we can’t help but be curious as to what the future of social media has in store.

Las Sonrisas Amargas

By: Monica Landrove

While the road to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio has received the lion’s share of network news coverage across North America, it is not the only significant tournament sports fans can look forward to this summer. June will mark the start of the one hundredth Copa America, Copa America Centenario, a competition between the best men’s association football teams in North, Central, and South America for intercontinental bragging rights and FIFA world ranking consideration. Staunch soccer fans in the Western hemisphere will be tuning into Copa America, the top choice competition for national A-team squads (traditionally, countries tend to send their younger, newer male players to the Olympics, rather than the Copa America). As enthusiasm mounts, advertisement for the tournament has begun to pervade even the most soccer-ambivalent news markets, thanks in some part to a clever commercial by TyC Sports (Torneos y Competencias), an Argentine sports channel based in Buenos Aires. Earlier this month TyC aired a cheeky, attention-grabbing promotional video for the tournament. The video depicts action shots of the stars of the Argentinian national team, Copa America 2015 runners up and current FIFA-ranked number one team in the world, all while the voice of Donald Trump, presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, resonates in the background. The ad plays on the words of Trump’s now-infamous border wall speech, turning his warning against the “hundred of thousands” South Americans crossing the US border, unchecked, on its head by reappropriating them to discussion of strategy to be used against the formidable Argentinian squad. While both advertising strategy and international football commentary have a symbiotic relationship with sociopolitical commentary, it was the video’s tongue-in-cheek humor that grabbed the attention, particularly on social media, of international sports fans and politicos alike.

Latin America has a longstanding tradition of sociopolitical humor and satire, dating well back into the early nineteenth century. Mexican comedians of the twentieth century, most notably world-renowned satirical actor Cantinflas, who in his time was described as the Mexican Charlie Chaplin, exerted great influence in the manner in which they commented on social ills and political corruption. Cantinflas’ whip smart wordplay critiquing sociopolitical issues garnered him broad adoration in Mexico and inspired a generation of comedians, journalists, and activists throughout Latin America. Cantinflas, whose work has made a recent resurgence thanks to video streaming platforms such as YouTube and a 2015 dramatization of his life now available for view on Netflix, was just one influencer in a storied tradition of political humor in Latin America.

jaime_garzon

In the late 1990s, comedian and social activist Jaime Garzón, captured the hearts and minds of many Colombians with his radio and television sketch series. Garzón’s endearing wit and inventive characters playfully cast aspersions on the deeply corrupt ruling elites in Colombia at the time. His most famous role was as a shoe shine who interviewed celebrities and politicians of his day – a recurring sketch similar in concept to Stephen Colbert’s nine-year run as a pseudo-political conservative talk show host on the Colbert Report. At one point, Garzón’s character asked 1998 Colombian presidential election candidate Noemi Sanin, “don’t you ever get sick of spouting the same nonsense every day?” Garzón’s searing social commentary, coupled with his role as peace activist throughout Colombia’s protracted Civil War landed him in hot water with the powers-that-be and in August of 1999, he was tragically murdered by right-wing paramilitary factions. Garzón’s death shook the country and thousands of Colombians took to the streets of Bogota to express outrage and mourning over the loss of a much-beloved national figure and humorous voice political dissent. More recently, with the growth of citizen media, Jaime Garzón’s legacy of humor and political activism have seen renewed reverence, particularly among a generation of young Colombians old enough to clearly remember the events of 1999, and now finding themselves stewards of a transition to new media in a country that overall appears to be making strides toward lasting peace, social stability, and freedom of speech and press.

New media – by which I mean content made available digitally on platforms such as websites, blogs, video, mobile apps, and, importantly, social media – is often touted as a means for democratizing political discourse. Much of new media hinges on the interactions and collaborations of those consuming it. Anyone with access to a computer can start a blog, their readers can leave comments, or are invited to react with a myriad of emotions on their social media pages, and most notably, across all media types, users are encouraged to share widely that which they have watched or read and subsequently connected with. The role social media plays in galvanizing sociopolitical change – most notably during the 2011 Arab Spring is no longer a new story. In fact, shrewd media analysts have outgrown their initial awe for social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and have proceeded to discuss the manner in which the platforms’ significant pitfalls and shortcomings have hampered revolutionary efforts and undermined lasting social change. However, in January of this year, ComScore, a New York-based global media analytics company, announced that 2015 data indicated that internet users in Latin America spend more of their online time on social media platforms than anyone else in the world. While commentary on social media has shifted dramatically in recent years, that is not to say it should be eschewed entirely – particularly given the media platforms’ unique power to engaged audiences throughout Latin America.

Advances in new media are crucial for providing an outlet for the underrepresented and the disenfranchised. The ease with which an amateur political analyst or an enterprising citizen journalist can set up a blog or create an Instagram account is astounding in its ability to give voice to alternative opinions. But it is new media’s emphasis on interaction and user feedback that is its most beguiling characteristic. This reliance on stakeholder engagement through shared user experience means that new media can be used to breath fresh life into into longstanding Latin American traditions of political humor and satirical social commentary. In that same vein, the globalization of digital media means that sociopolitical commentary can ignite political discourse beyond local borders. In the case of Argentina’s topical Copa America promotional video, users were given a glimpse into the global implications of the United States political process, in a way that employed Argentinian satirical tradition.

It remains evident: while new media might not be the silver bullet by which social movements take lasting effect, it is proving itself to be the vehicle by which poignant social commentary is not only galvanized, but nurtured and sustained.

References:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/06/politics/trump-copa-de-america-commercial/

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/29/344327967/cantinflas-with-his-puns-and-satire-is-back-and-still-relevant

Schmidt, Samuel, Seriously Funny: Mexican Political Jokes as Social Resistance; University of Arizona Press, 2014.

http://www.theguardian.com/news/1999/aug/18/guardianobituaries.martinhodgson

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/421030.stm

http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB360/

https://globalvoices.org/2012/08/18/colombia-13-years-since-the-assassination-of-jaime-garzon/