Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mexico Turns to Social Media and Citizen Journalism During Drug War Media Blackout

A recent article from Houston Based Blog attempts to understand the phenomena known as Blog Del Narco.

The war on drugs in Mexico has taken the lives of more thank 50,000 citizens in that country in the last six years. Journalists account for 44 of those deaths. The state of Journalism in Mexico is one of fear and complete censorship. The drug cartels have been systematically shutting down news rooms and freelance journalists by threatening to kill them and their entire families. Reporters, editors and photojournalist's bodies along with their family members, have been found along streets and sometimes hanging over bridges displaying large banners with written messages to the public known as narcomantas. At times grenades have been thrown directly in to the buildings of news rooms.

Newspapers are still being printed and news is made everyday in Mexico, the difference is, only the murder is reported. No names are used, no suspects are reported and sometimes bylines in articles are left blank. Newspaper editors have been known to approach the cartels and ask, "what would you like us to report on?" This is media coverage about the drug war in Mexico today.

The last six years however, social media has played a central role in the reporting of the drug related violence. Enter, Blog Del Narco a blog that has been up and running since 2007. What makes this blog special is the ability to stay anonymous. All that is known about the blog is that it was created by a computer science student in Northern Mexico. It is ran by a handful of editors, and moderators and it is protected by numerous firewalls that protect it's location.

This cloak of invisibility allows users to share information freely with out fear of retaliation. One can open an account and start blogging today under anonymous. Now I can shoot a video at a downtown mall where a shooting may take place and I can upload to YouTube and then post in on Blog Del Narco where I can comment on what I saw and any details of the vehicles, weapons, or identities of the individuals involved. I can warn people, do stay away from downtown  or stay of the highways.

See Video of Shootout 

This has not only proven valuable to citizens in the violent towns but it also has become a free for all information bulletin. It is believed that the site is getting up too 1million hits per months. Visitors include, private citizens, Mexican police, Mexican Federal agents, American DEA, CIA and of course the gang members themselves. cartel members will post a video of a an execution and comment on why they did it and who is next. The graphic nature of the site is what gives it part of it's credibility. The videos are not censored, the violence is raw.  

One incident occurred in 2011 where a couple of teenage boys took out cell phones while sitting on their front porch of their home. They were witnessing a shooting directly across the street. They decided to hide behind a car parked in their driveway and start filming the shootout. The five minute video showed SUVs peeling out and machine-gun fire crackling down the residential streets. Members running in and out of vehicles and eventually bodies dropping to the floor and left dead. The two boys who were cousins decided to upload the video rot YouTube as soon as they got in the house. I mean that was some great video surely it would go viral that night. What occurred next changed the way citizen journalism operated over night. The video was posted on Blog Del Narco and later viewed by the gang members involved in the shootout earlier that morning. A quick scan of the location and point of view of the camera lens, allowed the gang members to identify where the video had been shot from. The next morning, the two boys got a knock on the door.

The YouTube comments were still coming in when an R.I.P. comment read the names of the two amateur videographers.

I do not know what is going to happen in Mexico but I hope the government acts quickly to protect journalists. I also hope social media will play a larger role in the dissimanation of cartel activity in Mexico.


  1. You've done a great job with a topic that relates both to citizen journalism and problems facing traditional journalists that have less to do with economics than with actual risks in danger zones. The issues that you raise about depicting violence and about how perpetrators of violence can also be participants challenges more simplistic assumptions that democratizing media is always uniformly a good thing.

  2. Great blog, it adds a new perspective to the Mexican Cartels narrative. It's good to know about that's going on in Mexico considering how close we live to the border, and traditional journalism no longer functions as it is supposed to so I'm glad that someone is stepping up to the plate and willing to take the risks.

  3. Hello Javier,

    For school I'm making a project on citizen journalism in Mexico. I would like to have an interview with you about you using the internet to spread your idea.

    Hopefully you reply me!

    Luuk, the Netherlands