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Reporting the Mexican Drug War—There's an App for That

A new grassroots iPhone app allows Mexican citizens to report crimes and corruption via Twitter.

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"117 reports in the last 8 hrs" Photo via

By McCarton Ackerman

10/02/12

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A new app created by two students in Mexico allows citizens to report crimes and incidents of corruption related to the country's drug war—creating instant transparency that holds police and other law enforcement officials accountable. Mario Romero and Jose Antonio Bolio created the free app, "Retio," which allows citizens to report—via Twitter—violent crimes, corrupt activity like road blocks or police abuse, and even broken traffic lights. Contributors use the handle for the corresponding city, eg @RetioDF for Mexico, DF, and tweet a description of the problem, sometimes with photo evidence, while an automatic system categorizes the report. The app can only be downloaded by iPhone and iPad users, but anyone with a computer can access Retio and contribute information. “The original goal was to organize and optimize Twitter to avoid different problematic situations that people face every day in Mexican cities,” says Romero. “Users in different cities started using hashtags to inform themselves of these type of situations, but it wasn’t an ideal solution—our plan was to build a better tool to resolve this and we’ve been able to do that. But we’re still not done.”

The Retio feeds for different areas vary greatly in following: the Mexico City and Monterrey feeds have roughly 62,000 tweets and 6,000 followers, while the feed for Ciudad Juarez has just 14 tweets and 2 followers—which Romero says is common, since the feeds often start slowly before eventually going viral. Even though the site lists contributers by name and photo, no one has received any threats yet. But local police reportedly aren't pleased with the new app. "The system forces an instant transparency as far as attention to citizens, and that’s something [the authorities] are not used to yet,” says Romero. “As far as the criminals, especially narcos, I think they would probably be more worried about other types of reports, like journalistic investigations that expose them and their connections, than about citizens alerting each other about shootings and risky situations.”

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