Social Networks in the War against Drug Trafficking in Mexico

By Dialogo
June 26, 2013

A new kind of war correspondent has emerged in Mexican cities affected by drug trafficking violence where the press has been silenced: the frustrated citizens turned to social networks in order to remain informed and to protect themselves.

“Deadly armed confrontation. Shoot-out in southern area ofLázaro Cárdenas (…) Avoid the area” is one of the messages posted on a Twitter account that belongs to an inhabitant of Monterrey, a city caught in the bloody confrontation between Los Zetas and Gulf cartels.

A study conducted by analysts at, headed by Mexican researcher Andrés Monroy Hernández, tracked the activity on Twitter accounts for several months in Monterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo and Veracruz, all cities severely affected by drug trafficking.

According to the research study titled, “The New War Correspondents: the Rise of Social Network Administrators in Urban War,” the words “explosions,” “gunshot” and “shootout” are some of the most commonly used words in tweets.

The study concluded that August 25, 2011 was the most active day on Twitter, when a fire set by Los Zetas’ members in Monterrey’s Casino Royale left 52 dead.

The images of the attack and the names of victims were shared over 7,000 times via Twitter that day in the city, which is considered an economic hub located 950 km from the capital in the north of the country.

Although only 34.9% of the population has Internet access in Mexico, 20% of those use Twitter on a daily basis in these northern and eastern cities; moreover, “the number of re-tweets is doubled” compared to those generated in a U.S. city such as Seattle (northeast Washington state), Monroy Hernández, member of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, told AFP.

“Twitter users have a strong presence in cities, but they are trying to remain anonymous” to avoid being identified by members of organized crime, Hernández said, adding that he had interviewed some Twitter account owners, where he learned that they do this for altruistic reasons.

“I feel like social networks allow me to be a new correspondent for the urban wars we are living,” one of the administrators, identified as Claudia, stated.

The violence lashing out to several regions in Mexico, where drug cartels and the Army are involved, has resulted in over 70,000 dead between 2006 and 2012.