The Twitter and Facebook accounts for a popular crime watchdog in one of Mexico’s most dangerous states have been abruptly taken down, without their owner providing a reason. But he had a $46,000 cartel bounty on his head.
This week, watchdog group Bravery for Tamaulipas shuttered its accounts, where before it provided a go-to source of cartel information about the state of the same name. There was no word from the anonymous administrator as to why. A related Facebook group, Responsibility for Tamaulipas, announced “a temporary suspension in the activities of both accounts, in order to strengthen the work of our blog and thus also, protect administrators of these pages.” Next, the announcement noted there were repeated “threats against our colleague, which at the time were evaluated and analyzed to determine the veracity of them.” (The group doesn’t have a website.)
The group advises residents in the state to follow Twitter hashtags #reynosafollow and #reynosadr – which report cartel activity in the border city of Reynosa – and to ignore alleged clone accounts posing as Bravery for Tamaulipas. “This is a temporary stoppage,” the announcement stated.
Bravery for Tamaulipas was something of a clearinghouse for information about the cartels in the state, one of Mexico’s most dangerous, since the administrator created it in 2012. Information posted to the social media accounts – which had more than 145,000 followers in March and 20,000 on Facebook – was also in stark contrast to the quieter reporting by mainstream newspapers, many of which have been muzzled by threats from the cartels. The accounts would report and share the location of cartel movements and road blockades, and even post the license plate numbers of alleged extortionists.
But the cartels seem to have noticed the attention they were getting online. In February, pamphlets appeared by the thousands in several Tamaulipas cities. On the pamphlets were a cellphone number and an offer of a $46,000 reward for information about the accounts’ administrator or his or her family.
Then someone was killed. Later in February, a video uploaded to YouTube appeared to show a man being executed after warning the public about sharing news with Bravery for Tamaulipas. “Please refrain from publishing any information – if not, this is the price you will pay,” he said. A masked, camouflaged gunman then appeared to shoot him in the head.
James Barger, a freelance journalist and writer for crime-monitoring group InSight Crime, wrote the “coverage was spotty, sometimes unreliable, but often the only source of what was happening, as witnessed in a recent battle in the city of Reynosa.” The March 10 battle, just across the Texas border, reportedly involved large numbers of Gulf Cartel gunmen shooting at each other, while traveling in convoys containing dozens of vehicles.
It also wouldn’t be the first time the cartels have targeted social media. In 2011, the Zetas allegedly posted signs in Nuevo Laredo with threats against social media written on them. These signs were found next to the bodies of two people hanged from an overpass. But social media as a means of disseminating information about the cartels have continued to proliferate, threats aside. On Twitter, hashtags #mtyfollow (Monterrey) and #verfollow (Veracruz) now report crime in those cities.
Which is good news, of a sort. Even with threats against social media like Bravery for Tamaulipas, information still finds a way to get out.