Facebook Helps Organize Ciudad Juárez Residents Against Crime

Daniel Cruz Bautista and his fellow residents of Ciudad Juárez — about 1.5 million people living across the border from El Paso, Texas — call the most violent city in the world “home.” Despite gruesome statistics, Bautista and other Facebook activists have begun to use the social network to organize protests, vigils and other forms of resistance in an effort to save their city. Here’s a closer look at their efforts.

As Facebook becomes an ever more important part of the lives of 400 million people, the ways in which both civilians and police use it are evolving. We recently reported on ways in which police are using Facebook to fight crime in the United States. Mexico has seen tremendous growth in Facebook use recently, having grown by nearly 1 million people over the course of January to reach 7.62 million, which we cover in our monthly Global Monitor report.

Ciudad Juárez has become one of the primary staging points of infighting between Mexico’s drug cartels, leading to its distinction as the city with highest per capita murder rate in the world in 2009 where more than 2,600 people were killed.

Facebook activists organizing here seized upon a January 31 shooting in which 15 teenagers with no drug ties were killed; the online fervor swelled again when President Felipe Calderón visited twice in a period of six days, to try to address the city’s discontent.

Bautista, like others organizing on Facebook, says he’s not an activist — he’s a librarian who decided to take a stand against the violence by starting a Facebook group called “Ya Basta de Violencia en Juárez!!” (Enough With the Violence in Juárez). He started the group on a Sunday, recently; by that Thursday more than 6,000 people had joined him there to discuss the violence, propose ways to stop it, criticize ineffective governance and brainstorm ways to take their online resistance to the real world. The group’s currently 9,000 strong and like the Walls of many other groups, comments reflect heavy discussions about politics and strategies, but also serves as a place to share photos and events.

“The role of Facebook is really important not only in the protests, but in many other facets, too. It’s changed things, increasing the capacity of communication for the groups that organize these events. More and more groups are created criticizing the government, it’s a form of pressure,” Baustita told us in an email, adding that connecting with people from Facebook offline also helped charge the movement. “I don’t have experience fighting for social justice, but lots of people with experience attended the protest and we learned from them.”

Activists taking to Facebook are protesting as much against the drug cartels and corrupt police forces as they are against a government they view as ineffective. It’s largely because government solutions have been unable to solve these problems that the activists we spoke to said Facebook has been something of a saving grace, allowing them to reach untold thousands of people around the world who are interested in the Juárez issue, Bautista said. It’s free, comes with specific features like groups, Pages and events, includes easy ways to upload multimedia, and it’s a relatively safe place for people to freely express themselves. And, unlike most social networks, it people who use it are doing so via their real identities; while this can create some risk for users, it also helps like-minded people connect. Activists we interviewed say Facebook will continue to play prominently in their future plans.

Ciudad Juárez’s violence has inspired a range of Facebook activity.

There’s a Facebook group created by Twitteros, or those active on Twitter, there’s an informal page of 2,700 fans who say they’ve had it “to here” with the lack of security, a fan page created for Luz María Dávila whose two sons died in the January 31 shooting and a peaceful group of 1,066 calling for everyone to try and find a solution. Some groups have thousands of members, but there are dozens of groups and a few Pages related to Juárez with less than 100 members with with varying levels of activity.