Narcotweets: How citizens are using social media to report the Mexican drug cartel wars

Narcotweets Presentation at Harvard Law School

By Royze Adolfo

On Wednesday, Andres Monroy Hernandez and Takis Metaxas shared their ongoing research to a widely-attended luncheon on the growing trend of anonymous and social media based reporting practices of Mexican civilians amidst the Mexican drug cartel war.

As the team cited, the Mexican drug war has resulted in roughly 60,000 killings and 230,000 displacements to date. With journalists and government officials fearing for their own safety, they have halted their efforts to provide accurate reportings of cartel-related atrocities, resulting in what the Metaxas and Hernandez claimed to be a “near-complete news blackout.”

Newsless civilians have, therefore, been motivated to adopt the act of anonymous tweeting as a civic duty. Some have even claimed the title of “war correspondent” to describe their altruistic role in developing a sort of alert network within their communities.

Quotation mark

Citizens form alert networks that spread geographically. A few users act as curators, aggregating & broadcasting information. #narcotweets
—StephenSuen (@s2tephen)

Hernandez and Metaxas particularly focused on the positive correlation they noticed between tweeting practices and the spread of cartel-related activities. With special attention to four cities — Monterrey, Reynosa, Veracruz, and Saltillo — and the use of a media cloud, the team identified that most common words that were tweeted about included: places, shootings, the word “report,” and people.

The team explains the distribution of tweets and Twitter account holders.

Because safety is still of immense concern, reporters and curators on Twitter still preserve their anonymity. While Hernandez and Metaxas claimed that they found anonymity to be problematic, especially in cases where people’s lives depend on what is reported, they noticed the phenomenon of trust-building. They found that credibility within the Twittersphere, or los tuiteros, was built through increased frequency and magnitude of individuals’ interaction with others within their networks and the larger Twitter community the triangulation of tweets and retweets.

Essentially, with convergence of increased violence, weakened institutions, adoption of social media, and engagement in civic reporting, Mexicans have formed credible safety alert networks that provide current and safety news in realtime. With social media-based movements like this one, as well as the Arab Spring, and many more around the globe, it is evident that social media gives way for communities to be built and for news to be shared faster and without traditional filters. Moreover, given the fact that Twitter is just one entity within the larger information ecosystem, there are even more ways for everyday citizens to fulfill their civic duty and share news within their local and social media networks.

Metaxas and Hernandez at their Narcotweets presentation (Credit to Mariel Garcia)

Quotation mark

Increased violence + weakened institutions + adoption of social media –> civic engagement #narcotweets
—Natalie Nicol (@natnicol)

To learn more about the talk, check here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *