Mexico: Another Voice Goes Silent [UPDATE]

UPDATE: Valor por Tamaulipas has reappeared on Facebook and Twitter since making the announcement below. This abrupt change has added to speculation about the trustworthiness of VxT. Because the accounts are operated anonymously, it is difficult to know who might be operating them and whether or not administration of the accounts has changed hands.

On April 7, a social media user known only as Valor Por Tamaulipas announced plans [es] to close Facebook and Twitter accounts that have become popular sources of information on drug violence in northern Mexico. Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas) has been using social media to crowdsource reports from citizens in the state of Tamaulipas, which has been riddled with drug-related conflict and corruption since 2006. Little is known about the administrator of the Valor por Tamaulipas (VxT) accounts — although messages from VxT are written in the first person, it is possible that the VxT online identity is managed by a group of people.

Protest against narco-state violence. Photo by Jesus Villaseca Perez. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Protest against narco-state violence. Photo by Jesus Villaseca Perez. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Some following the situation believe that VxT is a credible source working in the interests of civilians who may be harmed by violence in the region. But given the degree of anonymity that VxT has used online, and the general lack of reliable information on drug-related crimes in Mexico, this is also difficult to verify.

In February of 2013, an unidentified drug organization circulated a pamphlet offering MX$600,000 for information on the whereabouts of the administrator(s) of the VxT social media accounts. Shortly afterwards, VxT announced plans to suspend reporting; we can only speculate if this threat had something to do with it. Last week, VxT told readers of plans to close both its Twitter and Facebook accounts [es].

Below is are consecutive excerpts from the official message posted on Facebook [es]:
Lamento haber cerrado la página de forma intempestiva y sin hacer aclaraciones al respecto, la página sigue su curso para su cierre definitivo en menos de 9 dias, entré hoy para primero que nada deslindarme de cualquier otro esfuerzo que se genere de comunidades de apoyo a SDR en la que se indique o se infiera algún tipo de aprobación de mi parte.

I am sorry to have closed the page abruptly and with no explanations, the page will remain live until its final closing in less than 9 days. I logged in today to make it clear that I will no longer be part of any effort to support SDR [situación de riesgo, situation of risk or threat] or anything that might infer any endorsement on my part.

[…]

Tienen que estar conscientes que hay muy pocas personas que podrían realmente estar interesados en hacer un apoyo como el que algunos usuarios realizamos en los que no tenemos ningún tipo de interes personal o por parte de organizaciones criminales, o de autoridades estatales o federales.

No pueden confiar en la primer página que salga diciendo que siguen los pasos de VxT, solo pueden confiar con el tiempo, evaluando lo que se indica y con que razón pueden estar haciendo esas indicaciones en el modo que lo hacen. En la experiencia que he tenido en el año y meses de administrar la página, me he encontrado que las redes sociales son un campo de batalla en el que los usuarios principales tienen algún tipo de interes o rol en esta misma guerra…

You have to know that there are few people who could really be interested in advocating the way some users do, with no personal interest or criminal or government allegiance – state or federal. You cannot trust the first page that comes your way saying it is following VxT's (Valor por Tamaulipas) steps.

You can only trust after time, evaluating what's been said and the reasons behind what they say. In my year-and-a-half of experience managing this page, I have learned that social networks are a battle field in which key users have a certain interest or role in this same war.

[…]

Yo no digo que no colaboren con otras redes de SDR, pero por Dios sean conscientes de lo que hacen, utilicen cuentas genéricas, y no hagan caso que VxT mandó decir tal cosa. Ya se deben de imaginar la cantidad de personas e intereses que hay por replicar lo que se ha logrado aquí.

No se como explicarlo pero en mi caso específico si ganó una batalla, pero me la ganó a mi no a la sociedad, me ganó a mi y a mi familia, sin embargo no le ganó a las 200,000 personas que confiaron y los miles que hicieron colaboraciones a pesar del temor. No puedo seguir en esta trinchera por diversas razones, que creo no es necesario explicarlas….creo he dado todo lo que podía y ya empieza a ser notoria mi incapacidad para administrar la página, los reportes, los riesgos, etc.

I am not saying you should not collaborate with other SDR networks, but for God's sake be conscious of what you are doing, use generic accounts and don't believe that VxT gave this or that message. You can imagine the number of people and interests that want to replicate what we have succeeded in doing.

I don't know how to explain it, but organized crime in my specific case won the battle, though it won it over me not society, it won it over me and my family, not the 200,000 persons who trusted [me] and the thousands that collaborated despite being afraid. I can no longer be in these trenches for several reasons that I believe it's not necessary to explain….I believe I've given everything I could and it's already obvious I'm incapable of administering the page, the reports, the risks, etc.

This is not the first time a crowdsourced citizen media initiative covering drug violence has gone silent for fear of reprisals. Recently, Ruy Salgado, author of the popular blog el5antuario.org disappeared from public view and stopped adding content to the site.  In a three-hour message, he explained that he could not go into detail about his victimization during the 42 days of silence after his disappearance “because there is no security that what happened to me will not happen again and I cannot put my family at risk” but he did refer to a “forced disappearance” caused by Mexico being “a failed narco-state.”

This conflict has forced many traditional news organizations to curb their reporting on drug violence; the Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that sixteen journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2006, mostly due to their coverage of drug-related crime and corruption. As citizen and social media users work to fill this silence and report on what they see and hear on the ground, leading figures like VxT and Ruy Salgado have become new targets for drug organizations. Global Voices Advocacy will continue to cover these threats as they progress. We invite readers who have news or information about the issue to contact us in the comments field, on Twitter, or by email.

Recent GVA and GV coverage of drug-related violence in Mexico:

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