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Jorge González Nuñez
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The following text is part of a series exploring the topic of digital justice. The full series is being published in the days leading up to the International Symposium for Communication for Social Justice in the Digital Age which will be held 13-15 September. These interviews are intended to offer intergenerational—and honest—views of how we are living in a digital world, if churches are helping us, and how we can work together to define and pursue digital justice.  

What does digital justice mean to you (taking into account your context)?

Nuñez: I think that digital justice is related to the free access that people should have to technologies, respect for privacy, without being manipulated, without being misinformed and without the digital media appropriating our information. 

How do you see the relationship between the digital world and the church?

Nuñez: From the Cuban reality, I can say that the relationship between the digital world and the church has grown considerably as a result of COVID-19. Never before have churches and faith-based organizations used technologies in the way we are doing now. It has been through digital social networks that we have accompanied each other during the days of isolation, through platforms like Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook we have conducted training workshops, Bible studies, prayer groups, work meetings and more. I think that in the future the church will continue to use the benefits of the digital world to develop its work, beyond the context of a pandemic. 

How can human rights be protected in the digital world?

Nuñez: I believe that the digital space is now, more than ever, a contested area. The interests of large corporations, hegemonic media and large communications emporiums are above the interests of the majority. We are talking about a few, with a lot of money, who do everything to control the rest of the people and continue increasing their fortunes. In this dispute for power, our rights as citizens are affected. They use all our information (including that of governments) for commercial, political and even war purposes. We must demand from governments and international organizations, regulations that truly protect the users of digital or computer technologies.   

How do you think a balance can be struck between freedom and control in the digital world? 

Nuñez: The exercise of control should be from the people, from the users to the digital media and not as it works today, where the digital media control the users. It is important to define what kind of "freedom" and what kind of "control" we are referring to, because these are terms that are also manipulated from the centers of power and from the in-communication media. In Cuba, we speak of a “Media War” to refer to the continuous attacks carried out by the United States government against the island. These are actions that in the name of "freedom" and "democracy" use the digital media to censor and misinform. We are facing factories of fake news and trolls, with very sophisticated laboratory technology. Thus we live under constant siege in the digital space. The U.S. government, for example, prohibits access from Cuba to university websites in that country, prohibits access to sites for the exchange of knowledge among professionals in all fields, including some as important as health and education. Nor can we freely access platforms such as Zoom, so widely used in this time of pandemic. All these prohibitions and many others are sustained for political purposes. 

Is digital space a public space?

Nuñez: I believe that digital space is a privatized space, sold to us as public. But when we enter an Internet site, a social network like Facebook, and they are going to be the owners of all the information I post, and they are going to use it for commercial, political, cultural purposes... we cannot say that we are entering a public space, but a space privatized by big companies and governments. The digital space as a whole is a space privatized by large companies, to whom we give, every day, the information they need to continue exercising control over us.  

How do you assess the psychological impact of the digitalized world on people?

Nuñez: I think we can talk about positive and negative impacts of the digitalized world. There is one result that I consider positive and that is communication. For people who have a suitable device, and networks that they can access, it is very easy to establish instant communication. Text messages, voice messages, video calls, are already part of our daily lives and in many cases these experiences generate joy. The problems occur when these digital spaces begin to replace face-to-face spaces. In this sense, we can see how there are already many people who find it very difficult to interact with other people when they do not do it through a screen. Even in face-to-face spaces, we see how people do not stop interacting through our digital devices.  

How do you see the future of humanity in the digitalized world?

Nuñez: I like to be optimistic, I think we have great challenges with technologies, but also great opportunities. Very important areas of science can make great advances with the help of technologies. Communications, health, research, environmental care can achieve great advances for the benefit of humanity, with the help of new technologies. And we, the majority, have the challenge of taking control over the media and digital platforms, which today remain, as I mentioned earlier, in the hands of a few.  

What can the church do to achieve digital justice?

Nuñez: As churches and organizations, we have the duty to incorporate these issues related to the digital world into our vocabulary, to talk about technology in Sunday sermons, to explain what a cyberattack is, to educate to prevent harassment and violence in social networks. We also have the duty to accompany more adult people, who often need advice to communicate through their devices. These are small actions that can make big differences in our faith communities, and we do not need to be specialists in technology issues to do so. 
 

Follow the programme and learn more about the symposium "Communication for Social Justice in a Digital Age"