Mexico Relies on Social Media for Drug War News

Mexico Relies on Social Media for Drug War News

By Victoria Kim 06/27/13

With mainstream media silenced by fear of drug cartels, sites like Twitter are the only "safe" way to report the violence.

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Most newspapers don't tell the whole truth.
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With most mainstream media sources silenced by fear of the drug cartels, social media has become a safer way for Mexicans to stay informed about the drug war-related violence continuing to rage throughout the country. "They are killing like crazy! There's a shootout in the Lazaro Cardenas neighborhood. Steer clear of that area," reads a tweet out of Monterrey, a city plagued by cartel violence. Microsoft.com analysts followed 16 months of Twitter activity by residents of four cities heavily affected by cartel violenceMonterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo, and Veracruz. In a report, they noted a prevalence of terms like "bomb blasts" and "gunshots" during this time period, and identified at least half a dozen Twitter accounts dedicated to posting drug war updates. Of the one-third of Mexicans with Internet access, only 20% regularly use Twitter. But in these four cities, there are “twice as many retweets” than in US cities like Seattle, said the study's lead researcher Monroy Hernandez. These "social media curators"most of them ordinary citizensspend up to 15 hours a day gathering information, and mostly do it for "altruistic reasons." Says Hernandez: “They have a lot of visibility in these cities but they try to stay anonymous.”

The drug war has claimed more than 70,000 lives in Mexico since 2006. Since 2000, 86 reporters have been killed and 18 have gone missing, according to Mexico's Human Rights Commission. Even anonymous bloggers have been victims of violence, as the cartels often find ways to determine their identities by hacking the system. In 2011, three bloggers were killed—two of them left hanging from a bridge as a warning. Even "Lucy"—the famously fearless anonymous blogger whose widely-read site El Blog del Narco publishes stories, graphic photos and videos of daily violence—has fled to Spain out of fear for her life.