Beginning in February 2013, researchers at the Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) at George Mason University began tracking the national immigration reform conversation on Twitter. Our view: Twitter would be one of several social media venues where the evolving immigration reform debate could be tracked and analyzed. Since then, using DiscoverText and NodeXL, two different data mining applications, we’ve collected nearly 3 million tweets containing the word “immigration.”
How the mighty have fallen in Mexico — at least on movie screens and in social media. A comedy lampooning the rich has become the highest-grossing film in Mexican cinema history, with five million moviegoers laughing at the story of a construction tycoon fooling his spoilt children into a life of poverty. “Nosotros Los Nobles” (“We Are The Nobles”) has hit a nerve — or the funny bone — in a country with one of the widest income gaps in the world, where 10 percent of the people control 40 percent of the wealth while almost half live in poverty.
Then last month, in a real-life scene that could have come right from the script, inspectors from the Profeco consumer protection agency tried to close a restaurant after their boss’s daughter complained she was denied her table of choice. But the tables turned on her when Mexicans denounced her behavior on Twitter, dubbing her #LadyProfeco. Some mocked her as a daddy’s girl, asking her to shut down a volcano spewing ash, but many saw it as the latest example of the elite’s sense of entitlement.
A study on social media use in Mexico found that Twitter users are taking up the role of informal correspondents on the sidelines of the country’s ongoing drug war. In cities like Monterrey, Veracruz, and Saltillo, Twitter users are spreading the word on shootings, arrests, and clashes between the cartels and police. And, researchers say, they’ve developed a kind of media-esque ecosystem that values traits like sourcing and attribution.
This is far from the first time conflict and citizen media have risen hand in hand, a pattern repeated in countries like Egypt and Syria, among others. That’s because there’s a common set of circumstances in many of these situations: “For many Mexicans, social media has become a fluid and participatory information platform that augments and often replaces traditional news media and governmental institutions,” the study says.
In a country with barely any Internet access, the activist Yoani Sánchez has managed, with a blog and a Twitter account as her only tools, to tell the outside world about repression in Cuba. This has brought her a couple of arrests and a dozen international awards, including a special mention from the Maria Moors Cabot Prize committee and the Ortega y Gasset prize for online journalism. But in Mexico, Cuba’s most famous dissident was given a decidedly cool welcome.
A couple of weeks ago, Sánchez finally got an exit visa to leave Cuba and started a three-month tour that will take her across Latin America, the United States and Europe. Her first stop in Mexico was in Puebla, two hours from Mexico City, at the annual meeting of the Inter American Press Association. When some of her Mexican friends asked politicians and nongovernmental organizations to host an event in her honor, they found no takers. At the conference itself she was harassed and insulted. Organizations no one had ever heard of published manifestos in local newspapers repudiating her visit.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest casualties from the bloodshed that besets Mexico is freedom of the press. Drug cartels have targeted traditional media outlets such as TV stations and newspapers for their coverage of the violence. Mexico is now the most dangerous country to be a journalist. However, a blackout of information about the extent of violence has been avoided because of activity on Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels.
A Cato Institute event earlier this week highlighted the work of two Mexican researchers on this topic. Andrés Monroy-Hernández from Microsoft Research presented the findings of his paper, “The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare,” which shows how Twitter has replaced traditional media in several Mexican cities as the primary source of information about drug violence. Panelists also included Javier Osorio, a Ph.D. candidate from Notre Dame University and Karla Zabludovsky, a reporter from the New York Times’ Mexico City Bureau.
In Mexico’s drug-war-torn cities, a small number of Twitter users affected by narco violence are acting as war correspondents to the masses, providing a public-safety alert system of sorts, according to a recent research paper from Microsoft, called “The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare.”
These “curators,” tweeting with hashtags like #mtyfollow, #reynosafolllow, #saltillo and #verfollow, produce an inordinately high number of tweets compared to other users, informing people about recent violence, clashes and other news in regions where traditional news outlets have engaged in self-imposed blackouts to avoid narco violence.