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Mariela Castro’s inauspicious Twitter debut

The role of online social media in undermining the message control of authoritarian regimes is often overhyped and misunderstood. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine Raul Castro’s daughter getting into a spirited exchange with Cuba’s most prominent dissident writer any other way.  Mariela Castro is best known for her championing of AIDS education and LGBT rights ...

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Image
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Image

The role of online social media in undermining the message control of authoritarian regimes is often overhyped and misunderstood. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine Raul Castro’s daughter getting into a spirited exchange with Cuba’s most prominent dissident writer any other way. 

Mariela Castro is best known for her championing of AIDS education and LGBT rights — noteworthy stands in a government that hasn’t always been exactly progressive on those questions. So she may have thought that Twitter would welcome her with open arms when she joined yesterday. Instead she almost immediately found herself in a spat with blogger and frequent FP contributor Yoani Sanchez. The Washington Post‘s Elizabeth Flock translates the highlights:

 

The exchange began after Sanchez welcomed Castro to the "plurality of Twitter" where "no one can shut me up, deny me permission to travel or block entrance".

When Castro didn’t answer, Sanchez made reference to Castro’s championing of gay rights, writing: "When will we Cubans be able to come out of other closets… Tolerance is total or is it not?"

Castro responded then, saying, hotly: "Your focus of tolerance reproduces the old mechanisms of power. To improve your ‘services’ you need to study"

Then, after other Twitter users piled on, Castro broke out a brilliant line that I now plan on using against anyone who disagrees with me on the internet:   "Despicable parasites: did you receive the order from your employers to respond to me in unison and with the same predetermined script? Be creative".

Following the exchange, Castro retreated to safer ground, tweeting about her efforts to combat prostitution in Cuba. 

It’s worth pointing out that this is entirely a self-inflicted wound. Castro didn’t need to respond to Sanchez, and actually just drew more attention to her by responding — though with almost 176,000 followers, Sanchez doesn’t really need the help. Dmitry Medvedev and Hugo Chavez have been on Twitter for months, but are presumably smart enough to know there’s little to be gained from engaging with their many critics 140 characters at a time. 

The closest parallel to this is probably Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who got into a heated debate over his human rights record with a British journalist —  a move that probably generated more global media discussion of Rwanda’s human rights situation than it had gotten all year.  Sometimes you just can’t help yourself I guess. 

 Twitter: @joshuakeating

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