Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, September 30, 2011

To tweet or not to tweet...

The Mexican government is very wary (as wary as the Chinese leaders?) of social media. But, many people regard it as necessary.

Mexico Turns to Social Media for Information and Survival
Before the police or news reporters had even arrived at the underpass outside Veracruz where gunmen held up traffic and dumped 35 bodies at rush hour last week, Twitter was already buzzing with fear and valuable information…

These witness accounts have become common in Mexico over the past year, especially in violent cities where the news media have been compromised by corruption or killings. But the flurry of Twitter messages about the bodies arrived at a telling moment — on the same day that Veracruz’s State Assembly made it a crime to use Twitter and other social networks to undermine public order…

Panic is the fear: Two people in Veracruz were charged last month with terrorism and sabotage after their Twitter messages — spreading a false rumor that schools were under attack — seemed to cause traffic accidents as parents flooded the roads…

In many ways, the explosion of electronic crime-sharing is the product of trends that both create and destroy communities: Mexico today is both highly connected and highly dangerous. Around 40,000 people have been killed in the ramped-up drug war of the past five years, while the middle class is growing, scared and increasingly networked…

“Social media is filling the gap left by the press,” said Andrés Monroy-Hernández, a doctoral candidate from Mexico at the M.I.T. Media Lab. “In different regions of Mexico, both the state and the press are weak, while organized crime is becoming stronger and, in some places, replacing the state.”…

Two weeks ago, a man and a woman in their early 20s were found hanging from a bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, with a sign near their mangled bodies that read: “This will happen to all the Internet snitches.” A third person was found dead on Saturday with a sign declaring she was killed for social media postings.

These are grisly warnings to the new media faithful. “Social media is no longer for fun and socializing in Mexico,” said a contributor to Borderland Beat from the state of Tamaulipas, who goes by @OVEMEX.

The killings highlighted the growing power of the so-called cyber guardians, whose Twitter accounts sometimes carry avatars depicting Pancho Villa and other heroes of the Mexican Revolution. The drug cartels, which have often successfully enforced information blackouts at the local level by intimidating the police and reporters, are clearly threatened by the decentralized distribution of the Web…

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