Can social networking open up Cuba?

Social media and the Internet are crossing all borders and barriers and energizing societies in ways we have never seen before.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

We've talked quite a bit on these pages about the role of social networking in opening up our corporations, providing transparency to management, consumers, as well as sustainability efforts.

But social media is political as well as business. In recent months, we witnessed a revolution in Iran supported by social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Can social networking have a positive impact on a long-repressed society just south of the United States? In a new post, Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, expert on the social and business implications of computing and former IBM vice president, reports on a recent conference in which the possibilities for social networking to open up Cuban society were discussed:

"We should try to reach out to and directly help people in Cuba in any way possible.  Internet technologies and social media represent potential mechanisms to empower the Cuban people to better communicate with each other as well as with the outside world.  For years now we have seen the power of these technologies, most recently with Iran’s Green movement.

"The Internet, mobile phones and related communication technologies are a thorn on the side of repressive governments.  These governments try to control them to try to keep their people from using them.  However, they cannot ban them outright unless they are willing to cut themselves off from the world altogether, including global trade and tourism.  Few countries, e.g., North Korea, are willing to go that far."

Wladawsky-Berger also cites the work of Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban who defied authorities with her blog, Generation Y, started in April of 2007. She still posts everyday, though the Cuban government filtered out her blog so it could no longer be accessed over the Internet within Cuba -- and thus, Sanchez cannot read her own posts. Her blogsite is supported by an international virtual community that assists with posting photos and translating her blog into 15 languages.  That's social networking in action!

Social media and the Internet are crossing all borders and barriers and energizing societies in ways we have never seen before, or could ever have imagined. We have first-hand, real-time views of the tragedy in Haiti, as well as other disasters and movements around the globe. Our political and economic communities are now global communities.

UPDATE: ZDNet colleague Rachel King reports that the Internet may be in the running for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Why? Because "the World Wide Web can be the ultimate force to 'destroy hate and conflict and to propagate peace and democracy.'”

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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