Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, September 16, 2011

Latest battlefield in Mexico's drug war: Social media

By Catherine E. Shoichet

Twitter users report gun battles and fiery road blockades. A website lists victims' names and details of how they died. A blog posts gory photos of gruesome killings and videos of drug lords' confessions.

As violence grows across Mexico, online posts dealing with it have also surged at an explosive rate.

This week attackers left ominous threats mentioning two websites on signs beside mutilated bodies in northern Mexico. The message was clear: Post something we don't like online, and you're next. "I am about to get you," one sign said.

More than two days later, it was unclear who the two brutally slain victims left dangling from a bridge were, or whether they had any connection to social media.

Local police in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, didn't answer the phone. State prosecutors said federal authorities were handling the matter. The Mexican Attorney General's Office said it had not received any details about the killings from local officials.

But no matter what investigators uncover, analysts say the case shows the prominent role technology has come to play in describing and denouncing violence in Mexico.

"It's still very telling," said Andres Monroy-Hernandez, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "Regardless of why they killed these people, the cartels kind of went out of their way and wrote a message explicitly calling out what is being reported on the Internet."

'The truth has to be told'

A woman was hogtied and disemboweled. Attackers left her topless, dangling by her feet and hands from a bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo earlier this week. A bloodied man next to her was hanging by his hands, his right shoulder severed so deeply the bone was visible.

Signs left near the bodies declared the pair, both apparently in their 20s, were killed for posting denouncements of drug cartel activities on a social network.

"This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet," one sign said. "You better (expletive) pay attention."

The Nuevo Laredo case "shows that online messages are worrying a lot of people," said Raul Trejo Delarbre, who studies social media at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "It shows that uncomfortable topics are being addressed there."

Online posts have become some of the loudest voices reporting violence in Mexico. In some parts of the country, threats from cartels have silenced traditional media. Sometimes even local authorities fear speaking out.

Over the past year, Twitter users in the northern industrial city of Monterrey posted balacera -- the Spanish word for shootout -- more frequently than anyone elsewhere in the world, Monroy-Hernandez said.

"There are frequently comments about fear, the feeling of distress," Trejo said.
But there's a flip side. Last month, false rumors about school attacks in Veracruz, Mexico, spread rapidly on Twitter and Facebook, causing real-life chaos on the coastal city's streets. Parents panicked, rushing to rescue their children from schools they feared were under attack. Traffic jammed and cars crashed.

Rumors swirled online this week, as word spread about the slayings in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. Some users posted fears in online forums, vowing to delete their accounts or post anonymously. Others claimed the crime scene had been altered to add the social media threat.

"When I first saw the photo of the scene, I was scared. But I've calmed down. And now I've made some changes, but this is not going to compromise what I'm doing, or what others like me are doing," said one Twitter user in northern Mexico who frequently posts about drug violence.

The Twitter user spoke to CNN but asked to remain anonymous to protect his family. He said he has removed any personal information about himself from his online profile, stopped showing his face in his profile picture and made sure not to tweet anything about his family or his job.

"People will still continue to tweet, despite these threats. People will still continue because the truth has to be told," he said.

An anonymous voice chronicles the violence

The signs left beside bodies this week threatened those who report violent incidents through social media networks. But the two websites it mentioned, Al Rojo Vivo and Blog del Narco, also showed no signs of stopping their efforts.

On the Al Rojo Vivo forum, where citizens can make anonymous tips, one person posted: "Don't be afraid to denounce. It's very difficult for them to find out who denounced. They only want to scare society."

More than 600 user comments appeared below pictures of blood-spattered shooting victims on Blog del Narco Thursday.

Since its launch last year, the drug-violence blog has gained notoriety for posting shocking videos and pictures, many of them submitted to the site anonymously.

The identity of the person behind the site also remains unknown. Last year the site's creator said he was a twenty-something college student from northern Mexico majoring in computer science.

"The media and the government would like to make it look as if nothing is happening," he said last year. "The media (keep silent) because they're threatened, and the government apparently has been bought."

In a statement sent to CNN Wednesday, Blog del Narco said its site was not dedicated to denouncing crime.

"In addition, we are not in favor or against any criminal group, we only inform as things happen," the statement said.

'We don't want to find out who's responsible'

At another blog, known as Menos Dias Aqui, Spanish for "Fewer Days Here," "counters" spend their days combing media reports, searching for detailed descriptions of killings.

Their goal is finding the names of the deceased in every violent death in Mexico, and posting them online for the world to see.

"We want to give them names, faces. To stop trivializing death," the website says.

That's a difficult task amid a nationwide drug war that has claimed tens of thousands of casualties since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began a crackdown on cartels in December 2006. As of Wednesday, the website said it had documented 15,372 deaths caused by violence in Mexico since last September.

Alicia Gonzalez, a translator who runs the website, said Thursday that this week's killings in Nuevo Laredo did not diminish her resolve.

"I have nothing to do with the causes of violent acts. Really I have no desire to get involved in those things. I am always very clear. We don't want to find out who's responsible," she said. "What worries us is what will happen with all these children who are left as orphans."

CNN's Rafael Romo, Nick Valencia, Mariano Castillo and contributed to this report.


  1. "Don't be afraid to denounce. It's very difficult for them to find out who denounced. They only want to scare society." I agree with this, even if I have mother fuckers looking at what I do on my computer all the time there are other ways to send information out with out them knowing.

  2. Cowards! The cartel clowns will soon get a taste of justice! The people of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico and the world hate you, and you are the stain of the human race. The whole world will celebrate your destruction as you are torn apart by the good people of Mexico.

    A Mexican Spring is coming....

  3. The cartels arent killing anyone for denouncing them. Look at the comments on any article for blog del narco. Every other comment out of a 1000 says "fuck the narcos, they are pussies, jajaja". The cartels wouldnt even have time to make money if they started hunting down people for talking shit. Now if you started divulging names or other secrets, thats a diff story

  4. The problem with other blogs is that they require you to put an email down and if you want to, you can link your Facebook to your comments, which is pretty stupid if you ask me. Hopefully they learn and remain unanimous, don't get me wrong, they can still follow your IP address, but I doubt the Zetas are going to spend money and resources to see who is talking bad about them ...

  5. The cops could use this to their advantage by posting something bad about a cartel somewhere local in Mexico then wait until that cartel shows up to whack them and the cops and military could come out from behind walls with guns blazing! or just arrest them.

  6. If CNN had any balls they would start reporting what is happeing down south rather than making hay from the death of folks trying to fill the gap the CNN fools left.

  7. Whoever did this just caused more harm to the narcos than the Mexican Army. This story is going viral. Public opinion is turning against the narcos in a global way. Two days ago it was the Laredo newspaper, today it's CNN.

    I agree with 1:20 - A Mexican Spring is coming...

  8. And an IP address will only get you to the general area not the actual address of the person. That would be way too much work for them to track down say a solo denouncer. So, denounce away. I'd be a little more careful in Mexico-just never know, and nothing seems to be what is supposed to be in Mexico.

  9. "I doubt the Zetas are going to spend money and resources to see who is talking bad about them ..." - they have limitless cash reserves, and can buy off and/or threaten senior IT guys just like they do cops and politicians. Find a Mexican company that handles internet routing, then appear at their offices with photos of their kids, and guns and gas cans and the obvious readiness to use them and it's a done deal.

    Just sayin'...

  10. I dont think it deals with posting bad stuff, they probably turned some halcones or sellers in.. Zetas found out and decided to kill them.. By turning in, I mean turned the names over to the Gulf Cartel not the police.. The police in those areas are nothing but "Z in Uniform"

  11. Zeta pinche putos, chinga tumadre putos!

  12. If the cartels are worried about negative Internet content about them, they should simply make use of "reputation defenders" .

  13. I agree with the previous poster that the gangsters did far more harm than good for the cartels.

    In typical hammer-headed cartel fashion they may just have underestimated the hornet nest they just kicked.

    The cartels have made martyrs out of those poor souls dangling from the bridge.

    It's eventually going to be the average citizen that turns the tide on the narco war. At some point their will be a reckoning, and the drug addled & psychopathic cartel scum will pay a hefty price for their carnage on society.

  14. Stay strong, Knowledge is Power

  15. @ September 16, 2011 12:35 PM they have limitless cash reserves.
    I don't believe this some people work with them with out getting paid what they were supposed to. Remember the people in Acapulco who got killed by La Barbie, they didn't have money to get back, that's why they got cough.

  16. If the narco traficantes are the bad guys how come they show their faces and the dark forces always cover their faces? I'm really confused.


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