Social networks, digital media revolutionize Mexican electoral coverage

Heading towards the Mexican presidential elections on July 1, voting surveys are done on Facebook; candidates have cell phone 'apps' and YouTube channels, and citizen journalists are the protagonists of new digital media that have refreshed electoral coverage to meet the demands of a younger and more informed public. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas interviewed the directors of Mexican digital and independent media about this tendency.

Although there is still a low number of Internet users (only a third of the population), Mexico is one of the 10 most important countries for Twitter, and is sixth in the world for number of Facebook users (25 million), according to the newspaper El Economista and the news site Animal Político. Mexico does not only have a large number of Twitter users (10.7 million), but also has a high number of messages that are sent daily, according to this social network.

“In every election comes new types of news media in Mexico,” said Alberto Bello, news director for Grupo Expansión, which publishes the portals CNN México, and ADN Político. This is due to the political party advertising investment in the news media, and because the current electoral law prohibits candidates from purchasing radio and television spaces. Now, new types of Mexican news media are digital, and these explore all sorts of tools: informative graphics, YouTube videos, virtual forums, chats with candidates, critiques of TV spots, and citizen reports. The candidates also exploit these tools. For example, the creation of PRIbook (a type of Facebook for supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party ), YouTube channels, and even an active army with Twitter and Facebook accounts, reported CNN México.

The candidates and digital media aim for a young audience, younger than 35 years of age, who are tired of traditional news media. “Now all the candidates have Facebook and the political class that isn't used to communicating with the electorate, is learning how to," said José Manuel Azpiroz, director of the website Arena Electoral, created by the non-profit organization Fundación Ethos and supported by the United Nations Population Fund, and by National Endowment for Democracy (NED) of the U.S. This website and its respective cell phone app are focused on comparing proposals done by the four presidential candidates, which are analyzed by academics and civil organization experts. Although the content is only published on the Internet, other print news media and radio stations reproduce its analyses. The website Arena Electoral has a specific focus. "We are not a news site," said Azpiroz.

Daniel Moreno, director of the website Animal Político, said that the electoral campaigns involve hiring a lot of personnel in the news media, for which his website is different. “We don't have a dozen reporters and this is why we avoid superficiality and speech coverage,” he said. Instead, his website creates content that come from civil organization expert collaborations, and uses the section All the Eyes, a citizen journalism space, in which almost 1,000 users are registered. “We understand politics as something public and this is why we keep a citizen agenda in topics that are not explored in depth by traditional news media," said Moreno, who was the publishing director of the radio station W Radio and of the newspaper Excélsior before entering the digital news media world.

Other citizen movements use social networks to support candidates or promote an informed vote. Recently, a group of college students created the website Yo Soy 132 based on the students from the Universidad Iberoamericana who rejected the PRI presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. The movement was created to demand that Mexican news media produce an objective and transparent coverage, especially after the recent scandal of journalists being paid by this Mexican politician, and newspaper front pages with skewed information about the university protests. Other young activists follow the Ectivismo community to support the PRI presidential candidate, just as the portal AMLO.si supports the leftist presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Regarding disputes about the PRI candidate's advantage, a group of citizens created an electoral survey on Facebook called “This is my vote,” which already has more than 100,000 responses, although its methodology is not officially recognized.

Mexican developers also created five cell phone apps related to the elections, some for entertainment, and others with more informative goals, according the the news site CNN México.

All these trends show that the Mexican youth are using online social networking to organize and inform themselves about the electoral process, however, the owners of the new news media outlets face problems to keep their independence and financial well being. Bello said that Mexican private businesses and commercial brands do not invest in advertising in political media outlets to avoid disputes, and therefore, the majority of Mexican traditional new media still sustain themselves through official advertising and by political parties. In his opinion, "we must make a leap." But this has not prevented citizens and civil organizations from becoming owners of the new electoral coverage digital media.