#IndexAwards2015: Digital activism nominee Valor por Tamaulipas

Digital activism nominee Valor por Tamaulipas

Digital activism nominee Valor por Tamaulipas

Valor por Tamaulipas is a crowd-sourced news platform, based in Mexico and set up in 2012 to fill the void created by the region’s cartel-induced media blackout.

Valor’s online followers – more than half a million on Facebook and 125,000 on Twitter – send in reports of cartel-related violence, such as shootings, robberies, or missing people. These reports are immediately curated and disseminated by the page administrator, with a hashtag such as #SDR (situación de riesgo ie “situation of risk”) attached.

From its inception, Valor por Tamaulipas (which means Courage for Tamaulipas) has been under constant threat by cartels. In 2013 leaflets were distributed throughout the state offering 600,000 pesos (~£25,000) to anyone with information on the page’s management. This prompted Valor’s administrator – whose identity has always been a closely kept secret – to temporarily suspend activities and relocate their family to the US.

A representative from Valor por Tamaulipas told Index, “The nomination is important for people in the state of Tamaulipas, and for those who see this community as a dependable way of showing what criminals and corrupt authorities are doing.”

Tamaulipas is a border state in northeastern Mexico, which has witnessed some of the country’s most ferocious and bloody cartel-related crime over the past few years. Recently this has escalated, in February a newspaper editor was kidnapped and beaten, and a grenade was thrown at a television station that had been reporting on drug crime. In March, the mayor of Matamoros – a city within the state  – survived an ambush.

The Mexican government is also criticised for trying to cover-up the extent of the situation and seeking to present a more positive image to the outside world. As a result, citizens of this state have looked increasingly to social media channels and blogs, which may have flaws and bias, but professional journalism is severely restricted to the point of near blackout.

“The principle motivation is to give citizens a voice, and other objectives arise from here – such as spreading the word on missing people, on the modus operandi of criminals, on corrupt authorities and on current ‘risk situations’, so people know about insecurity in certain areas,” added the representative.

“The community is also a space for those from small or rural areas; crimes that happen there are equally despicable, but people who live there have an disadvantage as there are less people who share and retweet information.”

María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, co-administrator of a similar page Esperanza por Tamaulipas, was kidnapped and murdered by cartel members in October 2014. Rubio had frequently shared up-to-date information about violent incidents in Tamaulipas to her thousands of Twitter followers, using an anonymous Twitter handle. Her killers used her Twitter account to reveal her identity, post her “confession”, and give warnings to other Valor administrators to keep silent. They also posted pictures of her dead body.

Rubio’s death temporarily halted activity at Valor por Tamaulipas, and in November the administrator suggested that control of the pages would be transferred to someone associated with the authorities. But after complaints from followers that the page’s content would suffer, the previous anonymous administrator has taken charge of the page once again, and has been posting dozens of alerts each day since.

This article was posted on 10 March 2015 at indexoncensorship.org