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Cuba: Debate on Yoani Sánchez's Twitter Account

On February 26, 2012, an opinion article [es] published in the Mexico City-based daily newspaper La Jornada called Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez a “fraud” because of her high levels of activity and popularity on Twitter. A year after Sánchez began her blog, Generación Y [es], the site was garnering an average of 15 million views per month. Since this time, Sánchez has received numerous accolades from press freedom and human rights organizations around the world. On Twitter, Sánchez has 226,000 followers (as of March 8, 2012) and follows roughly 80,000 people.

Op-ed author Salim Lamrani, a French scholar and regular contributor to The Huffington Post and to Cuban state media such as CubaDebate [es], argues that Internet access restrictions in Cuba should make it impossible for Sánchez to maintain this level of activity on Twitter.

…[R]esulta absolutamente imposible seguir a más de 80 mil personas, sólo por sms o a partir de una conexión semanal desde un hotel. Un acceso diario a la red es indispensable para ello.
[…]
Yoani Sánchez emite un promedio de 9.3 mensajes al día. En 2011, la bloguera publicó un promedio de 400 mensajes al mes. El precio de un mensaje en Cuba es de un peso convertible (CUC), lo que representa un total de 400 CUC mensuales.

It is absolutely impossible to follow more than 80,000 people, only via sms or through a weekly connection at a hotel. Daily access to the web would be imperative for this.
[…]
Yoani Sánchez [tweets] 9.3 messages per day. In 2011, the blogger published an average of 400 messages per month. The price of [sending] a message in Cuba is at least one convertible peso [CUC, about $1.40 USD], which would represent 400 CUC per month.
Screenshot of Twitter feed for Yoani Sanchez.

Screenshot of Twitter feed for Yoani Sanchez.

Lamrani’s claims begged bloggers and Twitter users to speculate on how Sánchez maintains such a robust presence on the microblogging site without regular access to the Web. (Note: While Lamrani points to the difficulties that Cubans face in accessing the web, he also reveals the astronomical cost of sending an SMS or text message via cell phone in Cuba.)

Like Lamrani, blogger Josep Calvet [es] concluded that Sánchez must be receiving outside help with her account:

Podría ocurrir que esas personas a las que sigue [Yoani Sánchez], hayan sido las primeras en seguirla a ella y ella responde siguiéndolos. Eso [requeriria] unos recursos enormes que ella afirma no tiene. […] [En] mi cuenta de Twitter que si quiero tener seguidores, una forma elemental es seguir a mucha gente y siempre se obtiene reciprocidad. Pero yo sé lo que eso cuesta en dedicación, teniendo una conexión bastante buena. En este caso, son terceras personas las que administran esa cuenta. ¿Quiénes?

It could be that these people that [Yoani Sánchez] follows began following her first, and that she responded by following them. This would [require]…some enormous resources that she says she does not have. […] [On] my Twitter account, if I want to get [more] followers, an elemental way is to follow many people and to always obtain reciprocity. But I know what this costs in dedication, even having a really good connection. In [Sánchez's] case, third parties must administer the account. Who are they?

Sánchez has openly explained that her blog is hosted in Germany and operated by friends who reside abroad. She has never said that she receives outside help with her Twitter account, but considering the evidence that Lamrani cites, it is reasonable to assume that she does. Some argue that she does this simply in her best interest: she wants her message to reach as many people as possible, so she has solicited help from others. Whether or not this makes her a “fraud” may be a matter of opinion.

Lamrani also noted that Sánchez has numerous “ghost” followers, a point that he found using the Twitter analytics program Followerwonk. Roughly 10 percent of Sánchez's 226,000 followers have tweeted a maximum of three times since they joined Twitter. The report also shows that Sánchez has large numbers of followers who follow only her.

Barcelona-based Cuban writer and Penúltimos Días author Ernesto Hernández Busto [es] rejected the notion that these so-called “ghost” followers proved Sánchez a fraud:

Salim Lamrani —y toda la e-propaganda cubana—, escandalizados porque el 1 % de los seguidores de Yoani Sánchez en Twitter no tiene ningún seguidor. Hay que ser un ignorante sobre el funcionamiento de las redes sociales para convertir eso en noticia. En todas las cuentas populares de Twitter de este mundo hay trolls, robots y seguidores sin seguidor.

Salim Lamrani – and all Cuban e-propaganda- scandalized by the 1% of followers of Yoani Sánchez on Twitter who have no followers. One has to be ignorant about the way that social networks work in order to call this news. On all popular Twitter accounts in the world there are trolls, robots and followers who have no followers of their own.

Lamrani’s article did not acknowledge that high profile Twitter users are likely to receive more spam and encounter more robots than those who have a few hundred or even a few thousand followers. Ryan Singel, editor at Wired Magazine, explained the Twitter “bot” phenomenon after interviewing Del Harvey, Twitter’s head of trust and safety:

The people behind [bots] are hoping to appeal to your narcissism. If you’re someone who reflexively follows anyone who follows you, you’ll be inviting spam messages until you unfollow or block the offending accounts.
[…]
One website that sells Twitter bot software promises to acquire 1,500 to 3,500 followers per week. The software lets spammers control multiple accounts, mask their IP address via proxies, and find followers by location or time zone for targeted hits.

It is important to recognize that Sánchez's activity on Twitter represents only one among many pieces of evidence of her popularity in Latin America and throughout the world. It is difficult to know what individuals or entities might be helping to maintain her ever-growing online presence. Regardless of claims from either side of the debate, it is clear that Sánchez's message continues to reach and affect millions of Internet users around the world, and this is a powerful engine for her cause.

7 comments

  • I recently wrote a piece on the voracity and reality of Yoani Sanchez, not her writings and her truisms of Cuba, but the reality of her being able to do so and exist, live, and write as a blogger against the atrocities of Fidel Castro’s revolution in the controlled web of the Cuban government. I basically questioned her being able to do what many others have been beaten and jailed for, and have suffered the wrath of an oppressive system.

  • I just wanted to comment on: “A year after Sánchez began her blog, Generación Y [es], the site was garnering an average of 15 million views per month. ”

    If this stat is true even at $1cpm and one ad she could be making $15,000 a month. Are there impediments to doing this even with the site hosted in Germany?

  • Thanks for your comment, Tomas. This is an important point–many bloggers around the world can and do have the capability to earn money for their work, and this can be a perfectly honest and open arrangement.

    For bloggers in Cuba, however, the situation is more complicated: state regulations on self-employment are very strict and do not come close to allowing individuals to earn money through writing, entrepreneurship, or other activities online. Even if the money were being routed through Germany, I think this would still put Sanchez at risk for violating state policy.

    There is also the added issue of wire transfers–to the best of my knowledge, the only way for Cubans to get money from off the island is through hand-to-hand transactions. I know for instance that Western Union and PayPal cannot legally operate in Cuba, due to the US embargo on the country. I know that with PayPal folks have created loopholes by routing money through a third country, but I’ve been told that this is a liability for the company.

  • […] de un artículo escrito por una joven norteamericana, Ellery Roberts Biddle, que publica,  Cuba: Debate on Yoani Sánchez’s Twitter Account donde ha incluido un enlace a un post de Acerca de Cuba. Me sorprende esa referencia y trato de ver […]

  • Jack Spratz

    Yoani has a Pay Pal account in Spain, and she is constantly asking for money. In order to have a pay pay account, you must also have a bank account or a credit card.It is true that it is against the law for a Cuban living anywhere in the world except the U.S. to have a PAY Pal account: with one exception; the U.S. government can allow a Cuban to have an account. In September of 2009, the then assistant secretary of State, Brisa Williams, went to Cuba and Yoani met with her and asked for a credit card and Pay Pal account; evidently she was given one of each. This is just one more reason there is almost a certainty that Yoani is nothing but an agent of the U.S. government. There are many more incidents that point to her being an agent. But I want to take up the point the original author made about 15 million readers of the Yoani blog.

    That would mean 500,000 people a day read it; 20833, an hour. It is total nonsense that such activity is happening with the bolgs of Yoani. F, In 2009 when Yoani was making claims about millions readers, the New York Times had 33 million readers a month. Yoani is a fraud but much more: she is a part of the propaganda machine that the U.S. maintains at a cost of tens of millions of dollars a year.

    • 2 years ago she lied to my face when I asked her if she knew the US interests in Havana officer Parmley. She swore she didn’t know him and had nothing to do with American operatives in any capacity.

      And this year, 2014…. several of us collected her videos and submitted them for examination to forensics examiners who have devoted their careers to the detection of deception. Each found her deception to score in the high 90’s.

      BACK THEN… The CNN journalist that questioned her immediately after she was kidnapped could not find any mark on her at all. Even he asked her to demonstrate where she had been beaten so that he could film the bruises and use it as evidence against the brutes outside but she said the markings were on “her ass”. Hardly her usual conservative… extremely well educated response.

      Again by coincidence… a Reuters News reporter happened by. He was accompanied by a female staff member from that news agency. The female offered to step away with yoani in private to examine the bruises to serve as a witness. Yoani refused to show any bruises and was visibly annoyed that they were questioning her.

      The videos to that effect are still on YouTube. I informed the Associated Press, the Miami Herald aunt Maria Hinojosa from National Public Radio and all three wanted me to submit my research to them rather than to do their own homework.

      Everything I’ve learned is available publicly except for the interviews with her relatives. They spoke freely because they didn’t know who I was or why I was asking.

      Their most interesting contribution to our conversations in Miami was when they talked about yoanis “marriage” to the German.

      No divorce documents exist which means that she was off with her lover in europe while still married to the Cuban she left behind in Havana and thats not the least of it…

      The majority of the checking accounts she shared with the german have two signatories and her husbands name is not 1 of them.

  • […] em Cuba, Esteban Israel, publicou uma matéria sobre seu blog, Generación Y. Ela também mostra bastante atividade no Twitter [en], com mais de 417.000 […]

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