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The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Online Video in Mexico

Submitted by on August 5, 2010 – 7:01 pm4 Comments

In our case study of Mexico-based Artículo 19 we highlighted a recent video published on YouTube, which shows Mexican soldiers harassing reporters at the scene of a shootout. Later that day Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense released an official statement condemning the behavior of the soldiers and announcing that their actions would be investigated. The quick diffusion of the video online and the prompt response by authorities reveal the power and potential of using online video to hold authorities accountable. It is what WITNESS refers to as “video for change” or “video advocacy.” By publishing video and spreading awareness about injustice, the hope is that authorities and elected officials will be pressured to create and enforce better policy.

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However, there is also a dark side in the use of online video here in Mexico, as drug gangs and organized crime are increasingly using the internet to spread gory videos in order to incite fear. As Mica Rosenberg writes from Mexico City:

While the gangs began using the bloody videos to send a message to police and rivals several years ago, they have become more common in recent months as turf wars escalate across the country, experts and police say.

The format of the tapes is often the same: captives, many bloodied from beatings, are tied up, blindfolded and posed in front of a draped sheet in an anonymous setting.

Surrounded by heavily armed captors in ski-masks and guided by questioning from an off-camera voice, the captives are forced to confess allegiances to cartels or corrupt officials. Many are then murdered on-camera.

The most explicit videos, when detected, are usually removed by major web sites like YouTube but stay posted on “narco-blogs” run by anonymous administrators.

The anonymously posted videos are of little assistance to federal police as they attempt to track down the perpetrators, but they do spread a cycle of violence according to Maria Guadalupe Licea, head of the government prosecutor’s office in Baja California. “Licea said the use of new technologies and media is part of a spiraling cycle of violence in which ever more shocking attacks inspire copycat killings,” writes Rosenberg.

As we wrote last week, some Mexican politicians have considered regulating social platforms like Facebook and Twitter with the aim of disrupting their use by organized crime groups. Mexican internet users are wary that such regulation could later lead to more general government censorship, and point out that such groups will simply find other outlets to distribute their videos.

For now it is up to citizens and civil society in Mexico to use the internet and online video sharing platforms to spread information and knowledge rather than fear and violence. WITNESS if currently developing a Video Advocacy Toolkit to train activists and NGO’s how to effectively use online video to advocate for social justice and the defense of human rights. They are seeking your input to better understand the needs of organizations as they relate to such a toolkit. You can offer your input by filling out this online survey.

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