Reporting about drug-related crime in Mexico can be fatal. Journalists and citizens are threatened and even killed for reporting on the violence that has overtaken the country. In spite of the danger, many Mexicans are using civic media to inform the public about shootings, harassment, murders and arrests, filling the informative space that the country's mainstream media has abandoned.
Sara Plaza Écija summarized the findings of a new study of the role of citizen journalists as “new war correspondents” in Mexico in the website Periodismo Ciudadano [es] (Citizen Journalism). We're sharing Sara's article here, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (CC BY 3.0).
An American study that aimed to analyze digital innovation found that Mexican Twitter users have become a reliable source of information about topics related to the country's drug trade, taking on the role of traditional mainstream media.
According to the document “The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare,” Twitter users in cities like Reynosa, Monterey, Veracruz or Saltillo are in charge of informing the public about arrests, shootings and confrontations caused by the Mexican drug trade, thus taking on the informative characteristics and role of traditional forms of media and communication. This information has become increasingly influential for Mexican citizens as the nation's major media outlets continue to lose credibility.
The study, supervised by Microsoft Research, examines the means of information exchange between people living in the cities most affected by the war on drugs in Mexico. It describes the frequency with which citizens use social media to warn others about violence in their communities. The study also investigates the rise of civic media “curators”, or citizens acting as “war correspondents” in terms of spreading information. “This is a group of people, who we refer to as ‘curators’, who have a large number of followers on social media networks, which means they've gained the trust of their communities,” said Andrés Monroy-Hernández, one of the researchers.
The study has focused on the four cities most affected by drug violence: Reynosa, Monterey, Veracruz and Saltillo. The researchers looked for common traits among tweets, hashtags and the Twitter users who were sharing this information. The majority of tweets referred to a location, one of the cities and the word “shooting.” The tweets acted as a “public service announcement” that warned citizens to stay clear of certain neighborhoods. The “curators” are defined by a large number of tweets and followers. They are people who find and share information. “The study shows that 61% of Mexicans use social media, but only 20% use Twitter. About 4.2 % of the online population in Mexico has written something against drugs or the drug trade on Twitter,” added Monroy- Hernández.
Violence in Mexico has increased as a result of the war on drugs, and the media has become one of its targets, which has caused some of the country's media outlets to become much more cautious about reporting on these topics. Because of this, the “curators” have become necessary sources of information. The researchers tried to interview some of these new “war correspondents,” but many of them have remained anonymous in order to avoid the risks faced by traditional journalists.