As mainstream media has been forced, with threats of violence, to stop reporting on drug-related violence in Mexico, many Mexicans have turned to Twitter to keep up-to-date on drug violence in their cities, according to a study published late last month by Microsoft’s research team.
Mexico is the third most dangerous country for journalists, according to the The Committee to Protect Journalists. Very little information on the drug war in the country surfaces in traditional media reports, the Microsoft researchers noted.
Twitter has emerged as a way for citizens to keep themselves informed about outbursts of violence that could affect their daily lives, even though just 35 percent of Mexicans have regular access to the Internet.
Several cities in Mexico — notably Monterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo and Veracruz — have hash tags that allow other users to locate information on drug violence. For instance, in Monterrey, more than 27,000 users employed the hash tag that indicates drug violence information, the report found.
Most users simply re-tweeted information on shootings, but about 10 power-users emerged as the source of most of the content, each accounting for more than one percent of the tweets about violence in their respective cities. Those power users spent hours a day on Twitter gathering information from other users and publicizing it. They also get information from friends and family and traditional media.
Researchers managed to interview some of the power users on Twitter. Most wished to remain anonymous, suggesting that they’ve turned to Twitter in part because it safeguards user’s real identities.
The users disproportionately claimed to be women. It’s not clear if they were actually women or if they thought female online identities would make them appear more trustworthy.