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Social Media Mayhem in Mexico

by on December 9, 2011

I was reading about “Development Communication” and something on “technology appropriation” caught my attention. Now this is a concept that is new to me, I had not ever read about that phrase or heard it like that really until a few days ago, so I’m not necessarily sure that this blog post is about “development communication” per se.  Anyway, the article was a paper called ‘We use it different, different’: Making sense of trends in mobile phone use in Ghana, which was published earlier this year in the New Media & Society journal.

Early on, there ‘s a section in which she talks about ‘technology appropriation’ which the author (Araba Sey at the Annenberg School of Communication) offers as “the way that users evaluate and adopt, adapt and integrate a technology in their everyday practices”.   She writes about this concept in the context of discussing how technology can be an important asset to enhance ones ability to influence their environment.  She talks about adapting technology, technically or socially, to particular circumstances of one’s existence.   This reminded me of the fascinating situation in Mexico that is at once a good illustration of effects of technologies on improving society and quality of life, yet at the same time a little depressing.  The short version is that basically, initially, it was starting to look like finally, citizens could protect themselves, by collaborating to share safe-zones, hotspots, outing suspected gangsters, etc.  However, Mexican gangs are now hitting back in two ways–first by using infiltrators to themselves wreak havoc using social media, and also by doing this:

Zetas’ latest victim, a man who moderated the Nuevo Laredo En Vivo whistle-blowing website, was found beheaded at a busy intersection with a nearby note reading, “This happened to me for not understanding that I shouldn’t report on the social networks.”

The blogger is the fourth citizen journalist in the last months to suffer the same fate as others reporting on Zetas’ activities. In September, the cartel posted similar signs next to two men’s bodies warning, “This is going to happen to all Internet snitches. Pay attention, I’m watching you.”

….another twist to this, is that public officials are lukewarm to the use of social media as described.  They are paradoxically on the same side as the Gangs in that regard, as another blogger put it:

Narco gangs see social media as a threat to their hold on power, while public officials complain the new technologies spread rumors. In fact, several Mexican states are considering laws criminalizing the sowing of “panic” on social networking sites.

This paradox endangers ordinary Mexicans who often cannot turn to the traditional media for information on which “no-go zones” to avoid to stay safe. In many parts of the country, especially in the north, media outlets have implemented a self-imposed blackout of coverage of drug violence.

The spooky ironyhere is that there is a general sense, albeit one that’s hard to conclusively prove, that law enforcement in Mexico is infiltrated. The livelihoods of many Mexicans are in danger of being negatively affected if access to social media becomes a no-go zone for ordinary folks. It’s rather a sad story.  Social media should develop communities, here it’s causing chaos.

Here is what the Mexican gangs are trying to fight, and what the Mexican authorities are trying to discourage:


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