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Social Media Vigilantes and Mexican Drug Cartels Face Off

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“THESE DEATHS WILL NOT BE IN VAIN…They cannot kill us all!!” remarked a blogger who goes by the handle Ovemex (Borderland Beat) in reaction to the decapitation and torture of a fellow digital activist by members of a drug cartel in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Allegedly, a forum moderator for a site called Nuevo Laredo En Vivo was murdered for reporting on gang activity in the city. His body and severed head were left near a busy intersection in Nuevo Laredo. The head was placed upon a message:

“I’m Rascatripas and this happened to me for failing to understand that I should not report things on social media websites. I am a ….. (text covered by body) just like La Nena from Laredo… With this last report I bid farewell to Nuevo Laredo en Vivo.. Always remem… Never For… Your moderator, RASCATRIPAS.”

This was the forth brutal murder in two months of social media users and bloggers in Nuevo Laredo. In September, a female journalist was decapitated and dumped in the same location with a note, signed with the Zeta’s trademark “Z,” which said it was done in retribution for her postings on a social media site. Before that, a young couple were hung from a highway overpass for what they also supposedly posted on social media.

In the wake of many newspapers and other mainstream media sources in parts of Mexico backing off on closely reporting gang actions because of the very real fear of retribution, members of the general public have turned into digital vigilantes, and have taken to blogs and social networking sites in an effort to combat gang activities.

The gangs have obviously responded in force.

Drug cartel control distribution map

Even with the threat of brutal murder hanging over them, the social media/ blogging activists of Mexico continue in their mission to report on drug gangs activities in an attempt to pick up where their country’s police and military fall short. “No matter, I have to die of something,” one blogger posted, “It will be for my people.”

In the wake of this most recent killing of a social media user, a call to action was released under the title, The Twitter Manifesto, which outlines the mission of digital activists in their opposition to drug cartel violence.

From the Twitter manifesto:

The absence of information that derives from the silence of local newspapers and media and municipal authorities at all levels, as well as the constant abuses and violations of human rights by police forces, has led many citizens to inform themselves and take precautions thru the use of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), chats and citizen’s blogs. . . In Northeastern Mexico this new social media has evolved into a form of self defense, conducted by citizens to broadcast and denounce violent acts resulting from the conflict between diverse groups of criminals and diverse national institutions in charge of our security. . . The fight for territorial control of the border zone is also waged in a new battleground: the internet and its social media. The criminal groups attempt to restrain our voice that speaks out through the invasion of our accounts and servers, to kidnap us and carry out criminal atrocities . . . This constitutes a flagrant threat against the only freedom left to us, now that the local, state and federal governments are indifferent to our demands . . . In summary, we have been abandoned to our fate in this unequal fight of free citizens against the drug traffickers. . . With heads held high, our computers and our native pride we declare to those murderous and unpunished groups that the internet and social networks are ours: those are our spaces, these spaces are us. That is why you cannot silence or restrain us.

Last month, the activist hacking group, Anonymous, began a campaign against the Zeta drug cartel code named #Optcartel. In reaction, the gang reportedly kidnapped one of their members. As retaliation for this, the hacking group threatened to release a list of Zeta collaborators, which they collected from their previous hacking actions of the Mexican government computer systems, if their member was not released. The Zetas backed down and released the Anonymous hacker, but he came with a note:

For each name of a Zeta or a collaborator they released, 10 people would be killed. Anonymous promptly called off their campaign against the cartel and opted instead to go after a less threatening foe: the Mexican government.

Website of a former Mexican district attorney hacked by Anonymous

Though the citizen activists posting on Nuevo Laredo En Vivo continue their struggle against the drug cartels. A blogger on the site posted the following in reaction to the murder of one of their members:

“Let’s continue denouncing them, now that we’ve seen it burns them, hurts them. … We have to continue. We can’t give in.”

Filed under: Current Events, Internet, Mexico

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been moving through the world since 1999, visiting 51 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China. has written 2747 posts on Vagabond Journey.

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