Mexican Twitter users serve as de facto war correspondents, according to report

A new report from Microsoft Research highlights the role Twitter users in Mexico play in reporting violence from organized crime as an alternative to the censorship criminal groups exercise against traditional media.

The report "The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare" uses quantitative and qualitative means to analyze the popularity of hashtags and tweets that report on gunfights and violent acts in cities affected by organized crime. While it is common for citizens in other countries to post information on social networks about natural disasters, terrorist attacks, protests and shootings, the report notes that these tend to be extraordinary events versus in many Mexican cities where the war against drug trafficking has made them disturbingly prosaic.

The report's authors also interviewed citizens cum curators of social media who dedicate up to 15 hours a day without pay to report on organized crime in their cities, according to Mashable. The authors hypothesize that curators and Twitter users have moved in to fill the information gap left by many traditional media organizations.

"Like other armed conflicts, the Mexican Drug War is also a conflict over the control of information," the report says, describing how Mexican media are subjected to threats and extreme pressures not to report on violence in their communities. Currently, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to the International Press Institute.

In 2010, a Washington Post article reported that organized criminal groups dictate what can be published or said on air through daily telephone calls, emails and even press releases.

The report also advocates for developing strategies and platforms to verify information without revealing the identity of social media users. In 2011, a Mexican journalist was decapitated for her anonymous accusations on a website. Before that, two mutilated bodies were hung with signs threatening blogs that report on organized crime on Nuevo Laredo, a Mexican city opposite Laredo, Texas.

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.