Anonymous: chronicling the drug war in cyberspace

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“Who am I? I’m in my 20s, I live in northern Mexico, I’m a journalist, I’m a woman, I’m single, I don’t have children and I love Mexico.” This is “Lucy”, who claims to be the founder of the Blog del Narco, a stomach-turning insider chronicle of the drug war. The anonymous authors of the blog have published a book (in Spanish and English), “Dying for the Truth: Undercover Inside the Mexican Drug War” (to be released April 16) and “Lucy” was interviewed by The Guardian, the Texas Observer and Al Jazeera in the past week. She acknowledged that many would be shocked to find out that the person behind the gruesome blog is a woman: “It’s a strong blow to Mexican machismo and the idea women are weaker, more delicate.” The website is one of the most viewed in Mexico, receiving approximately 3 million hits per month.

 

As “Lucy” told her story to the international press, Mexican news outlets buzzed about the shutdown of the Valor por Tamaulipas Facebook page by its anonymous administrator. I wrote about this page back in February when flyers were distributed offering a $600,000 peso reward to anyone who would reveal the whereabouts of this citizen reporter or his family. In his final comment on the page (which will be removed this weekend), the administrator apologized to his more than 214,000 Facebook followers and said he “[absolves himself] of any responsibility in the sense that I will no longer participate, or collaborate…managing a page about SDRs (high-risk situations) carries with it very tough responsibilities if you’re a good person.” He also warned others to be careful in attempting to report on the violence and not to trust the intentions of those who say they want to help. “In the experience I’ve had in the past year or so that I’ve administrated the page, I’ve found that social networks are a battleground and most of the users have some sort of interest or role in this war, whether they are members of cartels looking to sell or exchange information, district attorneys’ offices…or intelligence personnel with the SEDENA (Department of Defense).”

The internet has provided a faceless option for reporting on drug violence that has become too dangerous for traditional media coverage. But while anonymity is vital, it can sow seeds of skepticism about who is really hiding in the shadows and why. In a Los Angeles Times article from February, journalist Daniel Hernández discussed the doubts expressed by some that the administrator of the Valor por Tamaulipas Facebook page was just an “ordinary citizen” concerned about the safety of fellow residents of the state. Hernández quoted Antonio Martínez, a spokesman for press liberty advocacy group Artículo 19, who speculated that the page may actually be managed by military intelligence, noting that there were often posts that praised the military. Or maybe, the guy who runs the page has had good experiences with soldiers and feels they need to be shown more respect – especially those who have died in the line of duty. There are scores of possible scenarios.

“Lucy” has generated even more eyebrow-raising; some think it’s just a publicity stunt to help the blog’s authors sell more books. Some even say that drug traffickers may be behind it and use it as a way to gloat over their bloody work or to check in on the activity of rivals. A few commentators have observed that some advertisements on the site – for particular trucks, for example – seem geared towards a narco audience. Last summer, in an embarrassing moment for the PAN (National Action Party) presidential candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, one of her campaign ads was spotted on Blog del Narco. It was quickly removed and her campaign explained that it had shown up on the blog because the panista used Google ads. Interestingly, if you visit the site right now, you will discover that all advertising has been removed. However, if you search for it in Google, you will find the page listing their various publicity options and fees.

In her Al Jazeera interview, “Lucy” claimed that she and her co-authors relied on information from an informant inside the Mexican government to keep them alive. “They told us when the narcos were nearby, the warnings came at all hours, they would just say get out of there, they are in the area. They said grab what you can and go.” Is it believable that someone in the police or defense department would be in such frequent contact with these bloggers, monitoring their location and telling them to move any time that a member from a drug cartel arrived in the area? This kind of up-to-the-minute intelligence seems more suited to espionage than to citizen journalism. Is the new Mexican CIA cutting its teeth on protecting bloggers?

And yet, the Blog del Narco is probably the most comprehensive, graphic record of the violence unleashed between 2010 to the present. “If anything, Blog del Narco is an account of the facts. Proof that it happened. Because if we do not acknowledge what is happening in our country, then we can never change it,” according to Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at University of Texas at Brownsville in an article in The Texas Observer. The blog compiles stories from many sources (never attributed), which makes “Lucy’s” statement that “journalism is dead in Mexico” and that she was “doing work that no one else was doing or would have dared to do” quite disingenuous. If all of the stories on Blog del Narco are taken from either newspaper articles or other blogs, then she’s really not the one doing the reporting.

Or, it could all be true. Maybe there really is a young “Lucy” out there, trying to stay alive and document the violence exploding around her. And there may also be a weary, disheartened citizen from Tamaulipas who couldn’t go any further with his efforts to prevent more bloodshed and decided to disappear into the comfort of silence. But in this age of (mis)information, how will we ever know?

Sources:

Animal Político, El crimen organizado ganó la batalla: Valor por Tamaulipas (Apr 7)

Proceso, Lucy, una joven mujer, encabeza El Blog del Narco: The Guardian (Apr 4) and La bloguera Lucy a Al Jazeera: Teníamos un informante en el gobierno federal (Apr 10)

Texas Observer, Why Blog del Narco became Mexico’s Most Important Website (Apr 3)