Cuba criticizes Twitter for Fidel death rumor

HAVANA (AP) — State media on Wednesday accused the social networking site Twitter of helping spread a rumor that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had died, and criticized anti-Castro expatriates it dubbed “necrophiliac counterrevolutionaries” for jumping on the story.

An article on the state-run Cubadebate Web site accused Twitter of allowing an account holder with the sign-on “Naroh” to start the rumor on Monday from an Italian server, possibly after it was taken over by a “robot.” It says the account was then quickly deactivated.

It said Twitter then helped spread the disinformation by allowing the hash tag “fidelcastro” to become a trending topic. It briefly became the fourth most popular in the world as it drew many more people to the subject.

The site also accused Twitter of censoring subjects in the past that were in favor of the Cuban government.

A Twitter spokesperson, Jodi Olson, said the company had no comment on the specifics of Cuba’s complaint, but added “as you know, we don’t mediate content.” Rumors that a celebrity or other public figure is dead are common on social media sites and can spread quickly because of their nature.

“Naroh,” whose account was in active use on Wednesday, was one of more than 50 Twitter users to retweet a message that was a joke in fact casting doubt on the rumors of Castro’s death. He and others were posting other, mostly sarcastic, messages about the rumor at the same time.

The account’s owner lists his name as “Naroh - David Fdez,” and his biography identifies him as a 20-year-old living “between Asturias and Madrid” in Spain.

Reached via Twitter on Wednesday, the owner of the account reacted with shock and amusement. “Obviously I didn’t start anything,” he tweeted back to an AP reporter. Asked which of his tweets may have gotten Havana’s attention, he said he had no idea, that his posts were jokes and that the topic was already trending when he got involved.

He then tweeted to his followers, in Spanish: “Cuba is blaming me for killing Fidel Castro on Twitter. Can I now consider myself a Twit-star?”

Cubadebate also blamed anti-Castro expatriates anxious to see Castro’s demise for gleefully furthering the rumor, saying “necrophiliac counterrevolutionaries, aided by some media, immediately started to party.”

Castro, 85, turned power over to his brother Raul in 2006 during an illness that nearly killed him. He is officially retired, though he occasionally publishes opinion columns.

In recent months, Castro has alluded to the limits of age, but has also taken pride in his longevity. Cuba boasts that along with besting the actuarial tables, the former Cuban leader has survived hundreds of assassination attempts at the hands of his enemies in the United States.

Cubadebate noted that a false story about Castro’s demise was spread on the Internet and elsewhere back in August. On that occasion, there was even a computer virus embedded in a spam email titled “Fidel is Dead,” which featured a doctored, grainy photograph of the former Cuban leader that appeared to show him lying in a coffin.

As usual, the Cuban government has declined to make any official comment about Castro’s health. But the former leader hasn’t been silent. On Dec. 31, he sent a get-well letter to a Cuban baseball star that was read over state television.

Cubadebate on Wednesday reiterated a refrain it used the last time the Castro rumors began, saying that the latest hubbub was spread by “people inventing things in the virtual world that even the CIA could not accomplish in real life.”

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