Transnational Advocacy Networks and Information Politics: INGOs and the Collaboration for free speech in CUBA

Open Access
Allen, Katharine Reed
Graduate Program:
Mass Communications
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 12, 2015
Committee Members:
  • John Spicer Nichols, Dissertation Advisor
  • John Spicer Nichols, Committee Chair
  • Amit Schejter, Committee Member
  • Martin Halstuk, Committee Member
  • Sophia A Mcclennen, Committee Member
  • Transnational Advocacy Networks
  • INGOs
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Cuba
Bringing the Transnational Advocacy Network (TAN) theory into the world of digital activism, this project explores how international nongovernmental organizational (INGOs) members of a TAN use social media to interact with local activists in their advocacy for freedom of speech in Cuba. On a more critical level, the research analyzes the INGOs’ role as information gatekeepers, identifying and measuring the extent to which INGOs self-select the information they receive and share through social media. To evaluate the questions, the degree to which information is disseminated through INGO social media advocacy campaigns reflects the informational content and local agenda of Cuban activists—here represented by Yoani Sánchez and her blog Generacíon Y (GenY)—is examined. Although the research provides a statistical summary of INGO social media use, for descriptive depth, the exploration is deeper than a mechanistic assessment of Tweets and posts, analyzing the actual information and content disseminated by INGOs through social media. This study includes a descriptive typology of social media used in today’s INGO advocacy campaigns and a comprehensive, holistic examination of the state of freedom of speech in Cuba. While each of the latter is of secondary importance, they are necessary to provide technological and ideological context for the study. Ideological variations in conceptualizations of freedom of speech and expression are delineated, not only for context, but also to provide a greater transparency in the research, given the potential for latent or implicit biases in cross-cultural studies. The social media content of GenY and the select INGOs provided rich data. Data were collected from multiple sources during three separate bounded time frames to provide triangulation and strengthen the validity of the research (Stake, 2013; Yin, 2003). Data revealed overall patterns that were supported by in-depth “snapshots” of INGO dissemination of GenY information. Under the theoretical umbrella of TAN information politics, a mixed-methods approach was applied. Five sets of data were collected and analyzed: a numerical analysis of relative social media output, a qualitative comparative analysis of all GenY and INGO social media content for five year period, an in-depth “snapshot” qualitative analysis of GenY blog and Twitter output and corresponding INGO activity, a “snapshot” statistical analysis of INGO social media content relating to Cuba. Lastly, personal interviews with leading staff members of three of the six INGOs were conducted and synthesized to provide insight from the INGOs’ perspective. Results reveal a significant disconnect between the local and the global. Specifically, the INGOs self-select the information on Cuba that they receive and share through social media, in effect “cherry-picking” the information they utilize in compiling position papers and annual indices, which consistently rank Cuba as one of the lowest of the low in terms of freedom of expression. The results call for a re-examination of the credibility of such reports given the profound foreign policy influence that is wielded INGOs, especially in light of the fragile beginning of normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.