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Mexican bloggers' 'Twitter Manifesto' calls for protection from drug cartel violence

But the Mexican bloggers' demands in the manifesto – many beyond the power of the Mexican government to enforce – highlight the vulnerability of social media users to drug cartel violence.

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Each new killing like "Rascatripas" reinforces the fear that Mexico may enter a period of heightened confrontation between online media users and criminal gangs. And considering that Mexican security forces are still struggling to consolidate security on the ground, there appears to be little that formal institutions can or are willing to do to protect citizens who act in cyberspace.

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As previously explained by analyst James Bosworth, the Zetas' apparent persecution of social media commentators is parallel to the persecution faced by traditional media reporters. It is the same war over who controls the flow of information in Mexico. If this war continues to eliminate non-traditional media users like forum commentators and Twitter devotees, it may only contribute to the siege mentality already prevalent in border towns in Mexico.

Recognizing the futility of asking Mexican authorities for more protection from the threat, some have turned to issuing best practices. On another forum – the Frontera listserve – security consultant Gordon Housworth shared suggestions on how social media users can better protect themselves from the threat of criminal gangs.

"To these valiant social media commentators, know that your weapons are primarily defensive in nature, and of those the best is building and
maintaining your anonymity," Housworth writes.

He goes on to list some of these weapons:

  • Add new handle (online name) unrelated to your current handle/online name.
  • Consider adding that new handle on a different network. (Moving location is the first rule of breaking hostile surveillance.)
  • Use that new handle only, only, for your own public safety monitoring/alert sharing.
  • Do not share that handle, do not advertize that you have another handle. (Someone can earn money by turning you.)
  • Continue your usual posting on your old handle. (When an old handle drops and a new one appears handling the same traffic, it is not hard to connect dots.)
  • Be terse in the new handle, or at least do not use idiomatic language that you use on the old handle, i.e., try to remove identifiable language.
  • Remember to be thoughtful about what and how you report or discuss criminal matters, i.e., if you say, "I saw X" then someone knows that you were in range to see X at that time.
  • Consider using services outside Mexico such as twitter.
  • Avoid creating identifiable patterns.

What happens next will depend on collective action, individual saavy and tremendous courage. But it's not clear who will muster it.

Hacker groups like Anonymous have proved they have the political will and the ability to go after local governments and big business in Mexico, but have backed away from openly confronting criminal groups like the Zetas. And despite its name, the Twitter Manifesto is more a cry for help than a call for action.

--- Elyssa Pachico is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.

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