overmex

He knows he risks his life every time he reports on the Mexican drug wars, but he does it anyway. Ovemex is hoping to help end the violence.

When a fourth person turned up dead earlier this month in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo for posts made online about drug cartels, Ovemex was one of the first to report it.

He was also very aware that his actions could put him grave danger: He might be the next social media reporter to be brutally killed by Los Zetas, the cartel suspected in the four brutal murders.

“Of course I am” concerned about my own safety, said Ovemex, who is an administrator of Borderland Beat, a blog that is considered a leading source for news on the Mexican drug war. “But my fear of living life under these conditions indefinitely and my fear of never seeing change—unless we actively participate in the pursuit and creation of it—is much greater.”

Ovemex, who asked that only his Twitter handle be used when he spoke to the Daily Dot, is part of a network of faceless citizen journalists sharing information about drug cartels.

Many mainstream media outlets in Mexico have had their drug war coverage silenced, either through threats or bribes, forcing people to Twitter and blogs like Borderland Beat for news about the cartels.

Unlike the Arab spring uprisings earlier this year, information shared on sites like Borderland Beat in Mexico is mainly about day-to-day survival and navigating the most violent cities safely. Ovemex, however, is holding out hope that the grassroots, citizen journalists movement will build into a means of enacting change and put an end to a war that has claimed more than 43,000 lives since 2006.

“A person on Twitter who retweets info is helping,” Ovemex said. “A person who simply reads everything they can get their hands on is helping.”

Much as they did with traditional journalists, the cartels have started killing administrators of the crime blogs in hopes of silencing them. In addition to three people killed in September, Rascatripas, an administrator on another crime news site, was killed in November.

His decapitated body was found with a note saying he was killed for “failing to understand I must not report on social networks.”

“I don’t think these killings and threats will have have their desired effect—not in the long run,” Overmex said. “Mexico is awakening and  wants to speak. We want the truth known. They cannot silence us all, especially on the Internet where fragments of information are continuously and anonymously passed forward over and over again.”

The anonymous nature of the information-sharing network presents problems as readers try to determine what information is accurate and what information is false.

As originally reported by the Daily Dot, the cartels have been posting false information on social networks to divert law enforcement away from where they are operating.

Ovemex said determining which information is accurate and should be passed on is an acquired skill based on trust.

“There is no science to this—no immediate, definite way of knowing the absolute truth,” he said. “On the Internet you cannot rely on traditional social skills.Trust is a key issue. You cannot see who you are ‘speaking’ or ‘listening’ to, there are no body movements or facial expressions to give hint to their character. Over time you will find those you trust, as well as learn to read signs.

“You learn to read and comprehend what IS communicated by media, as well as what is NOT. And then you start putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” Ovemex said.

The better known crime blogs haven’t dipped too far into stories about #OpCorrupcion, a movement by Anonymous to hack Mexican government Web sites as a way of protesting  suspect cooperation and corruption. Part of the problem is there is often conflicting information coming from different members of Anonymous, and it is often hard to verify what is accurate and what is not.

Ovemex declined to speak about Anonymous specifically, other than to say he has been watching their actions in Mexico closely.

“They are us, we are them. Their power is in anonymity and their numbers,” he said. “We all work, for the most part, with the same idea mind—to create awareness and hopefully change—but that is alI we know about them. To me what is important and necessary is for Mexico to unite in this battle.”

“Everybody knows something,” he said. “The information and truths are out there, you just have to know where to look and how to put it together.”

Dave Copeland

Dave Copeland

Dave Copeland is a tech reporter whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and ReadWrite. He teaches journalism at Bridgewater State University.