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Facebook page in Mexico draws attention for posts on security risks

February 19, 2013|By Daniel Hernandez

MEXICO CITY -- A Facebook page in Mexico has notched tens of thousands of followers for posting detailed but unconfirmed updates on security risks in the drug-war hot zone of Tamaulipas state. Now, purported assassins have declared a bounty on the head of the page's anonymous administrator.

In response, the Facebook author said the page would not stop gathering and publishing information on shootouts and highway blockades because the Tamaulipas authorities and local news outlets offer nearly zero updates on so-called "risk situations."

The person behind Valor por Tamaulipas posted a photograph last week of a reward notice that was said to have begun circulating in several Tamaulipas cities calling for information leading to the page's author or relatives.

The flier makes an offer of 600,000 pesos, or about $47,000, for information and includes a cellphone number with a Tamaulipas area code.

"I'm not trying to be a hero," the Facebook page says in response to the bounty claim. "I'm doing what I'm supposed to do as a citizen and a member of society before the threat that organized crime poses to the stability of our state and country."

The photographs and postings, like other content on the page, could not be independently verified, a fact that partly explains the appeal of Valor Por Tamaulipas and similar social-media platforms that offer intelligence related to incidents in Mexico's ongoing drug war.

Local, state, and federal government authorities release only scant details, if any, on the conflict in Tamaulipas between federal authorities, Mexico's military, and three major crime groups: the Zeta, Sinaloa, and Gulf cartels. As in many other violence-wracked regions of Mexico, local news outlets widely practice self-censorship.

The sharing of such information -- from sites of checkpoints to times and places of grenade or car-bomb attacks -- has generated risks in the past for social-media users.

In September 2011, a woman known as an info-sharing user of an online message board in the Tamaulipas border city of Nuevo Laredo was found decapitated. Though never fully confirmed by local authorities, the woman's death was blamed on cartel hit men who wanted to silence her constant postings on violent incidents there.

The page where the woman posted, Nuevo Laredo En Vivo, maintains a message board where locals apparently keep posting.

Valor Por Tamaulipas has chalked up nearly 158,000 likes on Facebook since its launch on Jan. 1, 2012. On Twitter, the Valor por Tamaulipas account currently has about 24,400 followers.

In contrast, the state government's official Facebook page has about 3,000 likes, and noticeably no steady updates on risky situations on the ground. And, in a sign of the horizontal nature of the drug-war's information battles on the Internet, a page intended to counter the assertions of Valor Por Tamaulipas has already emerged, calling itself Anti Valor por Tamaulipas.

The administrator of the first Tamaulipas Facebook page did not respond to emailed questions Monday.

Antonio Martinez, a spokesman for the Mexico City-based free-speech advocacy group Articulo 19, said his organization was monitoring the purported threat against Valor por Tamaulipas but suggested that the site might not be administered by an ordinary citizen.

"It's a little strange," said Martinez, who noted the Facebook page routinely praises military personnel and their operations, without mentioning any of the allegations of abuses or criminal activity within the army's ranks in the region.

"We are still investigating, but we think this could be some kind of military strategy, and not a case of a direct threat against one person," Martinez said.

In an interview with the daily El Universal, the Facebook page administrator would "neither confirm nor deny" the assertion that Valor por Tamaulipas is a product of Mexican military intelligence.

Tamaulipas' statehouse has remained silent on the Facebook page and its report of a death-threat. But days after the threat was publicized, the state attorney general's office released a statement reminding citizens that it offers rewards of up to 500,000 pesos, or about $39,000, for information leading to the solving of serious crimes.

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