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Trigger words and the duty of revolutionaries in the Internet era

Originally published: Granma English by Iroel Sánchez (March 9, 2021)   | 

In Biology class, I don’t remember if it was in middle or high school, we learned about conditioned reflexes based on the work of the Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, Ivan Pavlov. I think his experiment is quite well known: He would start a metronome before feeding his dog, and observed that, when the dog had not been fed for a while and heard the sound, it began to salivate. Later the legend grew that Pavlov used a bell and not a metronome, but the principle is the same: the induced association between certain stimuli and a subsequent response. Based on this, behavioral psychology was applied in education, advertising and many other arenas in the United States.

In his famous interview with Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel refers to the use of this technique in anti-communist propaganda: “And being uninformed is not the same as having lost the ability to think, because your mind is dominated by reflexes: socialism is bad, socialism is bad, they take away your parental rights, they take away your house, they take away your wife.” And the ignorant, the illiterate, the poor, the exploited are repeating: Socialism is bad, socialism is bad. This is how parrots are taught to speak, bears to dance and lions to bow down respectfully.”

Noam Chomsky includes the effect of anti-communist propaganda among the five filters that determine contents in the media. Both he and Fidel were referring to the situation reigning before the advent of Internet social networks, which, although it has certainly democratized access to communication, has also strengthened pre-existing hegemonies.

In a scenario in which processes advance at great speed, the emotional tends to prevail over the rational, and so-called egomation – the promotion and predominance of the individual, along with information linked to what is pertinent or relevant to that person – is imposed over interest in dialogue, going deeper and getting to know others. Without taking into account politically motivated use of Internet social networks, networks like Facebook have consolidated a business model based on profiting from egomania and selling influence over individuals and groups. In the case of Cuba, added to this universal reality is the impact of an annual budget of half a hundred million dollars provided by the U.S. government to influence our society.

Anti-communist propaganda, historically promoted worldwide by the dominant discourse and the manipulated use of terms like “democracy,” “human rights” and “freedom,” has expanded its repertory with the construction of certain expressions about the Cuban reality which, based on an image developed in that isolated hamlet of intolerance that is Miami, are transferred to the Internet as common knowledge about the island. Situations that occurred more than four decades ago, rarely analyzed in depth among ourselves – UMAP, “the five grey years,” repudiation of those who emigrated from Mariel – are taken out of context and presented as permanent, systemic, current characteristics of Cuban socialism, while everything that capitalism around us does on a daily basis in terms of repression, censorship, violence, torture and exclusion against majorities and minorities remains unheard.

Using, with no evidence whatsoever, the words censorship or repression, or the expression “act of repudiation,” is enough to override the necessity of providing data and arguments, or analyzing the events cited, before a series of publications is immediately unleashed in which three indignant sentences written by someone on a Facebook profile turn the world upside down. And when arguments and data refuting hastily drawn conclusions appear, two things happen. The outraged person continues to cling to their “truth” like someone who insists that the earth is flat, and the machinery that multiplies this indignation attacks those who contribute a more analytical vision. This is how freedom of expression about Cuba works on the Internet.

Over just a few months’ time, we have seen this procedure used to justify throwing pig’s blood on busts of José Martí, various desecrations of the Cuban flag, attempts to recast the significance historical dates like November 27, manipulate the meaning of “Homeland or Death” and change the name of the Plaza de la Revolución on Google maps. But if you say that a cultural war against Cuba is being waged on digital social networks, then – according to the machinery triggering reflexes conditioned by propaganda of thousands of people on Facebook – you are an extremist, a tropical Stalinist who does not tolerate “thinking differently,” because, of course, their assertions are “thinking,” not propaganda. And don’t be surprised if you sadly find individuals among the subscribers to these statements who you considered critically minded, intelligent and well-informed. The ability to think has been replaced by emotional reaction and anything can happen. Trigger words have done their job and the intellectual task of establishing the truth is no longer important, in the age of egomania what is relevant is to get “likes,” even if many of them are from trolls with fake profiles; your ego is stroked and your brain will be content not having to make an effort.

For our part, in addition to continuing to promote comprehensive, profound education to train critical citizens, who cannot be manipulated by the professionals managing this hybrid war, it is important to understand that the scenario has changed radically. The endless stream of provocations that seek to create a situation of ungovernability, taking advantage of the technological and media superiority that imperialism puts at the disposal of its handful of servants in Cuba – even attempting to unleash violence and death – can only be exposed by a response based on intelligence, political consciousness and analysis, to avoid falling into the traps they are setting, and, while continuing to firmly defend our principles, be prepared, across the entire country, to foresee the course of every possible action, to document and disseminate the true version and cause of events, and to always insist that ethics, reason, and our people, are on the side of the Revolution. Let us act this way in this “chess game of a thousand pieces,” as Fidel liked to call the ideological struggle, which now moves, in part, to the Internet, where the Cuban people will once again triumph.

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