Don’t believe everything you read just because it’s written down.
Don’t believe everything you read just because it’s written down.
28 September 2011
Power to the blogs
The recent torture and murder of two Mexican bloggers after anonymous posts on anti-crime blogs has shocked the country’s internet community. But even more worrisome is how little elected leaders understand the importance of social media, in a country where criminals and citizens alike rely on it as an essential platform for communication.
By Samuel Logan for ISN Insights
Two swinging bodies hanging from a bridge greeted commuters in Mexico’s northern city of Nuevo Laredo in mid-September. The sight, sadly, was normal; the reason behind their torture and murder, however, was not. The killers – who, in the message they left, warned that “this is what will happen to all internet busy bodies” – allegedly kidnapped and murdered the couple for comments they had posted on a popular blog focused on organized crime in Mexico. Their death will not stop anonymous readers from commenting on blog posts, but it has taken Mexico’s online community by surprise – and into uncharted territory.
In an age where internet penetration figures have never been higher and privatized telecommunication networks allow an unprecedented number of individuals to mobilize online, social media has exploded across the world; Latin America is no exception. In Mexico, the influence of criminal organizations over traditional media networks has arguably accelerated the use of social media to report on violence in that country.
Twitter hashmarks such as #mexicorojo have become a gateway to a torrent of information reported by people on the ground all over the country. Blogs such as ‘Blog del Narco,’ ‘Borderland Beat,’ ‘Juarez en la Sombra’ and others aggregate information, photos, and videos – some of them so macabre that they could have been posted by the murderers themselves. The most popular and controversial blog, Blog del Narco, claims to have been started because “the media and government in Mexico try to pretend that nothing is happening, because the media is intimidated and the government has apparently been bought.”
Elsewhere, crowd-sourced crime maps have surfaced, where users log in and report crimes in their neighborhood. The Mexican daily, El Universal, maintains a crowd-sourced crime map for Mexico City. A separate project has initiated a mapping system for several cities around Mexico, focusing on key variables, such as the location of criminal lookouts in their city, retail drug sales points, or where remains have been found. There is also a downloadable application for mobile devices which is used to report on corruption in Mexico City: It allows drivers to report where and when a traffic officer extorted money for a bogus traffic violation.
This shocking event has opened the door to a wide spectrum of new fears for consumers and suppliers of online media in Mexico: The rest of the message found in mid-September with the dead social media users read, “You better [expletive] pay attention. I’m about to get you.”
With apparent proof that even individuals who post anonymously can be targeted with deadly reprisals, earlier concerns that criminal organizations are forcibly recruiting hackers, now weigh all the more heavily.
The dark side of social media
Even before this latest attack on Mexico’s online community, users were under threat from criminals who used platforms such as Facebook to identify potential targets for kidnapping or, more simply, virtual extortion – a tactic of tricking parents into thinking that their children have been kidnapped. To fool parents, criminals trawl social media sites like MySpace and Facebook for unsecured pages that contain private, sensitive information.
Though most internautas, as Internet surfers are called in Mexico, will be undeterred, Mexico’s criminal organizations have reached an unprecedented level of online sophistication, hunting for victims and targeting specific users who post the wrong information at the wrong time. Forced to find new ways to spread fear, communicate with rest of the world, and control their public image, criminal organizations are increasingly making use of social media tactics.
As media consumers in Mexico have seen, criminal groups such as Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation have made deft use of social media to send messages to their rivals, publicize their presence in a new piece of territory, or, simply, to terrorize.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this whole trend is the recent arrest of two individuals – one a math teacher – who had tweeted information the Mexican government deemed to be sabotage and ‘of a terrorist nature.’ In an apparently innocent attempt to alert parents and nearby residents, the two allegedly posted that local schools in Veracruz were under attack. Though the two Twitter users have been released, the Mexican government’s knee-jerk reaction speaks volumes about how little elected leaders understand the importance of social media in a country where criminals and citizens alike rely on it as an essential platform for communication.
Samuel Logan is an investigative journalist, and author. He is the director of Southern Pulse | Networked Intelligence, a decentralized, field-based security consultancy, and has reported on security, energy, politics, economics, organized crime, terrorism and black markets in Latin America since 1999.
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Latest update was Monday, September 26, 2011
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Positive Oil Supply Developments in West Africa
With the recent focus on supply disruptions and the potential for continuing unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, several positive developments in oil supply from West Africa may have escaped attention. Arresting earlier declines, the region’s top two producers, Nigeria and Angola, have each managed relatively robust production and export performances, helping offset shortfalls in supply from Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Both countries offer the promise of further, significant capacity additions in the short- to medium-term, although, in Nigeria, some major challenges remain. The region also includes a number of emerging suppliers, including Ghana, which has experienced a rapid ramp up in output from less than 10,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) last year to over 90,000 bbl/d by mid-2011.
News release: "Last week, the FCC published http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2011-09-23/xml/FR-2011-09-23.xml its final Open Internet rules in the Federal Register, which means they will formally go into effect later this fall. The publication caps off a two-year process at the Commission to get the rules in place. While the rules won’t change much in terms of day-to-day use of the Internet, it is good news for consumers and innovators that they will at long last be enforceable. The rules essentially preserve the status quo online. They prevent cable, DSL, and fiber carriers from favoring or disfavoring certain sites or applications over others and prevent mobile carriers from blocking websites or competing voice and video applications – leaving consumers to decide which services they might prefer. The only significant change will be that now, if carriers engage in discriminatory routing or network management practices, those whose traffic is affected will have a place to go to demand recourse. The rules themselves reflect a light-touch and flexible approach to preserving the competitive environment that currently exists on the Internet. The rules do not, as some critics declare, amount to “regulating the Internet,” and there is ample evidence that in the absence of rules carriers might discriminate (as a few have done already) against some lawful traffic."
In a Newsweek article titled "Roger’s Reality Show," Howard Kurtz wrote that Fox executives acknowledge that the news channel "took a hard right turn." This admission confirms what has long been clear: that Fox’s news division has been slanted.