To give you an idea of the sort of guerrilla reporting Reynosa's "tweeteros" ("tweeters") are doing, check out this video of a shootout, recorded on and tweeted from a cell phone during the narco-blockades:
Of course, all of the photos of the August 24 narco-blockades that appear in this article were pulled from Twitter.
By: Kristin Bricker, Security Sector Reform Resource Centrenarco-blockades. In Monterrey and Reynosa, two northern cities notoriously replete with organized crime, drug traffickers began to organize blockades that paralyzed entire sections of those cities. The blockades are sometimes in retaliation for the detention of important organized crime figures. In other cases, they are organized to prevent the police and military from acting against drug traffickers.
Often, during the blockades gunmen order civilians out of their vehicles. The gunmen then use the vehicles to block key roads or intersections, and sometimes they set the vehicles on fire. Shootouts with automatic assault rifles are common occurrences at the blockades.
|Narcos hijack buses to block an intersection in Reynosa.|
Reynosa’s “tweeters” began to use the hashtag #reynosafollow to communicate with each other about organized crime in their city. Users “tweet” about violence, and, because violence has become so normalized in their lives, they tweet to let others know about the absence of violence. On a normal day in Reynosa, it is common to see tweets such as “All calm downtown from heb Morelos to Tiburcio Garza Zamora and in the park #reynosafollow” or “#reynosafollow traffic stopped in front of military base, soldiers running everywhere.” Tweeters often report the locations of possible shootouts so that others can avoid the area: “#reynosafollow shooting heard near Las Fuentes, Lomas Section, 2nd Rotonda… explosions. Can someone else confirm?”
|Smoke from hijacked vehicles set ablaze in narco-blockades.|
Such was the case on August 24, when narco-blockades paralyzed major highways in Reynosa. Shootouts ensued, and an explosive devise set a factory on fire. Tweeters began to report the movements of drug traffickers, police, and the military over Twitter:
“Siempre Natural in the park, people armed #reynosafollow 10 minutes ago.”
“They burned the Jabil warehouse with a grenade blast. #reynosafollow”
“The highway is still blocked. I had to double back because the soldiers ran us off #reynosafollow”
|An explosive device set this warehouse on fire during the blockades|
During the August 24 narco-blockades, motorists used Twitter to help each other maneuver around the blockades, and alerted each other when blockades were lifted. Family members tweeted questions about certain areas of the city, and then relayed that information to stranded loved ones via cell phone. Students tweeted questions about the area surrounding their schools to see if it was safe to go home. When stores all around Reynosa closed due to the chaos, citizens tweeted the names of stores that were allowing civilians to take cover inside.
|Narco-blockade, as seen from a Tweeter's car.|
Following the blockades, tweeter “melenanl” wrote, “Thanks to all of you who take #reynosafollow seriously and who use it responsibly. Thanks to you my daughter and I made it home safely.”
Despite the shootouts, blockades, and explosions that rocked Reynosa last Wednesday, amazingly, only one civilian was killed. Twitter’s impact on that relatively minor death toll is debatable. Despite its potential as a tool to rapidly communicate messages, photos, and videos that could keep citizens away from dangerous situations, its reach is limited. In Mexico, where home internet service costs twice as much as comparable packages available in the United States, only 13.5% of Mexicans have internet in their homes. And only the wealthy can afford data (internet) service on their cell phones, which is necessary to receive Tweets on a cell phone.
When asked if an alternative emergency broadcast system via radio or television exists so that citizens who can’t afford internet can also stay informed of developments during dangerous situations, the Reynosa municipal government replied via Twitter, “At the moment we don’t have that sort of alert [system] for citizens. Thanks for the suggestion.”