Mexican engineers' iPhone app turns users into citizen journalists

Two young Mexican engineers developed an application for iPhone and iPad that turns users into citizen journalists when they report public security concerns, from broken traffic lights to police corruption and armed assault via Twitter, reported the website Texas Observer.

Using their personal savings, Mario Romero and José Antonio Bolio created the free app Retio, which allows users to locate public safety tweets on a map and publish photos. In January 2011, the engineers from Mérida, Yucatán, had the idea to better organize tweets that denounced police abuse and used security-related hashtags, Romero told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

Retio is an automated system that categorizes reports by issue, and erases spam and retweets. Any Twitter user can contribute to the reporting project and add their location when possible. Online, users can read reports from each city and map the entries of other users.

In other countries, like Panama, local media have created the website Mi Panamá Transparente (My Transparent Panama), which uses the mapping software Ushahidi to create a digital map of citizen reports of crime and corruption.

While the initiatives are similar, Retio stands out because its app is available for cellphones and Android and Blackberry users can also update information in realtime via Twitter.

Until now, the application's popularity has grown the fastest in Mexico City, the capital, where there are currently 6,380 followers that have posted over 60,000 complaints in realtime. Meanwhile, in the northern city of Monterrey there are 4,000 followers with almost 50,000 reports.

Despite low Internet penetration, Mexico is one of the top 10 countries for Twitter users. In some cities affected by violent organized crime, the micro-blogging platform has become a tool for citizen reporting on gunfights, killings and other violent acts since the local media have started self-censoring because of attacks and threats against the press.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.