Mexican web users are perhaps in the process of creating, however gropingly, something new: using social networks to make up for the absence of civil society acting against the government and against narcos. Paradoxically, it is those in power who, with their preoccupation with social networks, show the phenomenon’s power.
First, institutions. In the beginning of September, the state of Veracruz’s government sentenced two Twitter users to prison, accusing them of terrorism for having tweeted erroneous information about a narco attack on a local school. The accusation was so ridiculous that they had to be freed before a new law was approved (article in Spanish), punishing “disturbances of public order” caused by spreading rumors over social networks. This is serious.
Several days later, two mutilated bodies were found hanging from a bridge in the city of Neuvo Laredo, along with a sign saying “This is what’s going to happen to all internet snitches. Watch out. I’m watching you. Signed, Z.” (article in Spanish) ‘Z’ is a reference to Zeta, the narco group (drug cartel) formed by ex-military personnel. On October 4th, the corpse of a journalist and blogger was left with a message saying more or less the same thing (article in Spanish).
Linking the two is not the wild claim some might think.
Relationships between narcos and government institutions are not rare. Ernesto Priani, professor of philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, revealed to me that he is not “convinced that the narco is the other, the enemy, no matter what the president – has who ‘declared war on them’ – says.”
“The cacique (the local political boss) has become a narco, so has the neighborhood leader, who could be their cousin or uncle,” Priani explains. “The structure is not well-defined, but it is intimately linked to structures that we know. It includes invisible elements of power, as well as those that are visible.”
Those in power are thus in fear, and express this fear by punishing people however they see fit. The Zeta form of communication, through mutilated corpses and signs, can be efficient. But they are facing a complex, and in some ways new, animal.
The movement (not to suggest organization), is more and more widespread, with at least two faces. Numerous Mexicans circulate news to help each other survive, as shown in the New York Times. It’s real-time information that matters.
There are also those who use social networks to continue to disseminate information, providing an important type of public service, one that traditional media tends to neglect. Among these relays are @sanjuanamtz, @nomassangremx and @mxfallido.
Can social networks contribute to long-term awareness? Can they be useful against invisible powers that are even more difficult to fight, since they’ve infiltrated everything?
This usage, very particular to the situation in Mexico, is even more fascinating to me because the answer is so unclear.