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Mexican drug gangs take threats to the Internet

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Mexico’s drug war, which has long been played out in that country’s physical communities, has spilled over to the places where citizens congregate online, and it’s just as deadly and as violent as other efforts to maintain power by the notorious cartels operating along the U.S. border.

On Wednesday morning, a man and woman in their 20s were found strung up by their arms and legs from a pedestrian overpass in the border town Nuevo Laredo. Both had been tortured and the woman had been disemboweled. The bodies were accompanied by banners, including one that read “This will happen to all Internet snitches.”

“In #Mexico, newspapers self-censor, government arrests twitteros, bad guys kill ‘internet busy bodies..’,” William Booth observed in a Twitter post.

“So apparently Free speech can kill you in Mexico,” added Andy Fields.

While professional journalists have long been targeted by Mexico’s drug cartels, and some have even backed off coverage of the cartels as a result, the banners found with yesterday’s victims seemed to indicate that the couple’s only offense was to have posted messages critical of the cartels on two popular websites about crime.

The banners, one of which was signed “Z,” presumably referring to the Zetas, a large and violent cartel, listed the specific sites.

The case harkens back to a recent episode in which folk singers who wrote songs about the cartels were threatened for offending certain drug lords.

Both sites had been taken down, and, because the man and woman had not been identified by authorities, it was unclear what they had posted online or if they had been executed solely for their online activities, as the cartel’s banners claimed.

Beyond the obvious shock and outrage, reaction online ranged from calls for drug legalization to speculation on whether a shield law like the one protecting journalists would have protected the couple.

“It's not only dictators that don't like social media,” Sophie Pilgrim posted on Twitter.

Mexico has several crime blogs which allow people to post criticism about the cartels anonymously. Over time the sites listed on the banners -- including Frontera al Rojo Vivo, Blog Del Narco, or Denuncia Ciudadano -- have become a place where people have posted information about where the gangs have been operating so others could avoid them.

Twitter has also become a primary means sending out alerts of border areas and highways to avoid.

But where will people warn others of danger if even online byways are unsafe to roam?

Photo by esparta