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Twitosphere: The New Frontier for Human Security in Mexico

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By Heidi Hall – Drug-related violence across Mexico continues to escalate
despite government efforts to dismantle powerful cartels. Traditional media
sources, such as newspapers and television, have curbed their coverage of these
stories because of the threats and murders of journalists by drug lords and
their syndicates. Social media sources-blogs, Twitter, Facebook-have, however,
emerged as an alternate human security tool, offering vulnerable populations a
new method of self-protection.

Drug violence in Mexico has claimed close to 40,000
lives in the last five years. Cartels are highly profitable throughout Mexico
and have begun to diversify their enterprises, often venturing into money
laundering and human trafficking. In an attempt to protect the security of
their transport routes and limit global coverage of the topic, cartels target
reporters to kidnap and murder. Eight journalists have already been murdered
this year, and a total of 74 lost their lives to drug violence in the last
decade.

As a result, many drug-related stories are not reported. The
news industry recognizes that it is self-censoring; however, journalists who
cover drug cartels and their activity risk kidnap, torture, and death-the
stakes are too high for news organizations to justify putting employees and
their families at risk.

Conforming to a global trend, social media has stepped into
the vacuum left by conventional media in Mexico. As a trusted source of
information about violence and unrest, it has quickly become a tool for
everyday survival. This helps explain the remarkable growth in Facebook users
in Mexico, where 95 percent
of those with internet have an account (compared to 73 percent of internet
users over 18 years old in the United
States).

Many individuals say that they trust the information on
Twitter more than they trust conventional media outlets. Users warn their
Twitter followers of violence, and these tweets are then reposted and shared
across the “Twitosphere.”  For example,
when gunmen recently held up traffic and dumped 35 bodies in the street outside
Veracruz,
Twitter was awash with reports long before the police could respond to the
scene.

Websites such as www.blogdelnarco.com
and www.borderlandbeat.com
anonymously offer longer reports on incidents of drug violence across the
country. By monitoring these outlets, individuals are able to avoid unsafe
areas and navigate their everyday lives with more security.

While this may seem like a positive step toward inhibiting
drug cartels, the surge in social media use also has its costs. The mutilated
bodies of two bloggers were found hanging from a bridge in the border town of Nuevo Laredo on the
morning of September 13. Their bodies were accompanied by a sign that indicated
they had been killed for denouncing the actions of drug cartels in the area-on
the internet. It was made clear by the perpetrators that their fate would be
shared by any who posted online against drug violence. Less than two weeks
later, a decapitated woman was found with a similar sign. Though she had been
an editor at the local newspaper, the sign highlighted that her murder was in
response to her personal posts online.

Despite the high stakes associated with social media, these
recent developments have only hardened the resolve of Twitter watchdogs to
continue sharing information over the internet, all the while increasing their
reliance on anonymity for safety. One Twitter user from northern Mexico
recently told CNN, “People will continue to tweet, despite these threats.
People will still continue because the truth has to be told.”

In Mexico,
social media has become a tool for increased human security. While Facebook,
Twitter, and blogs will not be able to put an end to the raging drug war, they
fill a crucial role in providing personal safety. This story symbolizes the
changing nature of our global landscape and is worth telling in more than 140
characters.


Photo Credit: Alex E. Proimos, Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/proimos/6140580579/

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