The Murder of a Mexican Journalist and Social Media's Mixed Blessings

Mexican journalist María Elizabeth Macías Castro was found dead last Saturday in Nuevo Laredo. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that the drug-related murder is "the first case CPJ has documented in which someone was murdered in direct retaliation for journalism posted on social media."

Macías Castro apparently worked for a local newspaper, but the paper wouldn't confirm her employment status to CPJ. Her murderers, however, weren't motivated by anything she'd published under a byline with her given name—the killing was retaliation for content she had posted online using a pseudonym on Twitter and elsewhere.

The note left by the murderers left no doubt. "Ok. Nuevo Laredo Live and social media, I am the Girl from Laredo and I am here because of my reports and yours... ZZZZ." The "ZZZZ" signature suggests a link to the vicious Zetas drug cartel.

Local journalists told CPJ that the note referred to Macías Castro's online pseudonym "La NenaDLaredo" (The girl from Laredo), under which she posted information about crime on Twitter and on the website Nuevo Laredo en vivo (Nuevo Laredo Live). The Mexican website Animal Político reported that Macías moderated the chat forum of Nuevo Laredo en vivo, where users often denounced organized crime and the authorities, and that her last posted comment before her death was "Hunting rats, if you see where they run, denounce them." Another message from Nuevo Laredo en vivo's Twitter account read, "Raid by federal police on false document makers on bridge II, it was time." It is not known how Macías' killers discovered her identity.

Journalists, activists, and even grandmothers are using tools like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to spread information. But using social media for political ends entails costs, or at least risks, that citizens who have never published under a byline may not consider. Macías Castro worked as a journalist at least some of the time and no doubt knew the risk she was taking by denouncing local crime rings online. The same may not be true of many citizens who comment about similar topics online or tweet The Revolution. 

Examples like the Kelly Thomas case demonstrate the capacity of social media to transfer power from government and other institutions to the masses. But the murder of Macías Castro, like the public hanging of two Iranian activists who posted videos on the internet during the 2009 "Twitter Revolution," reveals the mixed blessings of social media.

For more, read Jesse Walker on how the Zeta drug cartel has become "a state within a state" in Nuevao Laredo, or check out Reason's drug war archive.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Macías Castro apparently worked for a local newspaper, but the paper wouldn't confirm her employment status to CPJ.

    I wonder why.

  • Quetzalcoatl||

    It sounds like the "mixed blessings of social media" are a lot like the "mixed blessings of media". If she had gotten killed for a newspaper article, no one would be saying "Oh, that's one of the mixed blessings of the printing press!"

  • ||

    So, commentariat, how hard is it to determine the real identity of someone twitting "anonymously"?

  • db||

    She called herself "The girl from Laredo." would it be all that hard to connect her to a female reporter with a local newspaper with "Laredo" in the name? There's little need to hack the account. And even if these assholes got the wrong woman, the terror value alone still would work in their favor.

  • db||

    I guess the name might have diluted meaning in a town called Nuevo Laredo, but the point about the Zetas' terror tactics should stand.

  • ||

    My spanish is almost non-existant, but is the banner in that picture an open recuitment poster for the Z's?

  • db||

    Via Google translate:


    Operational group "Los Zetas" wants you military or former military. We offer good salary, food, and attention to your family and not abused and hungry, we do not we feed you Maruchan soups. Refrain from calling relax...

    Wow. That's pretty brazen. Not sure about that last sentence though.

  • SAL||

    I'm not a native spanish speaker (neither a native english one, for that matter) but here we go: "If you currently serve or formerly served in the military, operational group Los Zetas wants you. We offer you a good salary, food and care for your family. Stop suffering abuse already and do not suffer starvation. We will NOT give you Maruchan [ramen noodle] soup to eat. Snitchers, refrain from calling us.

  • db||

    Thanks. I couldn't read the lower line well enough to type it in...and your translation is of course much smoother than Google's, and the meaning of "militar o ex-militar" is made more clear.

  • db||

    Why so few comments on this thread, Reasonoids? Afraid of backlash? :)

  • SxCx||

    Open question: what do people think will happen to the cartels if drugs are legalized? Imagine the US and Mexico announce tomorrow that they're ditching the drug war and individuals are now free to manufacture and distribute their own narcotics. What would be the result after six months?

    This is not a trick question, just a thought experiment.

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  • SxCx||

    Right.

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