Broadly put, my research addresses the convergence of a theoretical approach to modern international communications (new media, citizen journalism and multiplatform content creation) with a regional focus on the time-sensitive subnational interactions that take place in violence-ridden communities across the US-Mexico border. This effort couldn't be possible without the intellectual guidande and counsel of professors Philip N. Howard, Kristen A. Foot and Tony Lucero. I'm beyond grateful!
Based on my research, I wrote this Op-Ed in the print edition of El Norte, the largest and most prominent newspaper in northern Mexico. The piece was originally written in Spanish.
The recent mobilization of 40,000+ students in Mexico City that constituted the #YoSoy132 movement is yet another case of successful organization through social networking tools (mostly Twitter and Facebook) and the largest in Mexico since the #InternetNecesario rally. It was also a huge success for generating the broadest and most palpable consensus fueled by social media ever seen in the country. As a result, Mexican political pundits rushed to label it the “Mexican Spring”, in comparison with the Arab Spring and the so-called Twitter Revolutions of Moldova, Belarus, and Iran.
Unfortunately, all this excitement did not spread out to the rest of the country in the same fashion. In spite of the powerful and efficient, connective forces of social media, a broader territorial disconnection beyond the trite digital divide has become evident: Mexican regions have different agendas derived from different realities. The understandable priority divide.
This gap between capital and regions is better illustrated by the city of Monterrey (Mexico’s third largest), where only 700 students from different backgrounds showed up to rally for #YoSoy132 at the Macroplaza (main square, downtown). Not that many, but a decent figure in comparison with previous local mobilization efforts carried out by the civil society. In a city where a permanent state of war imprisons most citizens in their own homes, this demonstration has its merits.
Regardless of their actual contribution to the #YoSoy132 movement, there is a bright side to this story: students and young demonstrators who have been in contact through Twitter before the event, finally had the opportunity to see each other’s faces and interact for the first time in person. Here is the magic: this exchange and bonding experience would never have been possible without the possibilities offered by social networks. Now that they have met, their mutual trust has been strengthened for future endeavors.
Therein lays an exceptional opportunity for Regiomontanos: social media as a means to develop and increase their minimal social capital. They have the second highest Internet usage rate across the country and most of them are early adopters of social media tools. In fact, when the devastating hurricane ‘Alex’ hit Monterrey in the summer of 2009, a national precedent was set for the best practices in handling social networks during natural disasters.
Around that time, in response to the several fatal shootings across the violence-ridden city, savvy Twitter users created the hashtags #balaceramty and #mtyfollow to help geo-locating situations of risk through real-time crowdsourcing. The strategy took off (it even landed on the pages of The New York Times).
On top of an instinct to survive, it was the sense of reciprocity that made success possible. People stayed connected to receive updates and to re-notify others of what was going on in their surroundings. Inadvertently, by staying glued to their Twitter timelines, Regiomontanos regained hope, developed trust, and occasionally befriended their like-minded followers. Social networks are the new ice breakers.
However, 700 students were needed to uncover a bitter truth: Monterrey’s circumstances are so different from those of Mexico City that in order to prioritize peace and public safety, the right solution will need to come from within.
Amid the boom of social networking, Regiomontanos have the sufficient infrastructure, talent and sophistication needed to brave the upheaval. What is needed then? A citywide brainstorming to promote a brand new strategy to regenerate social capital through the responsible use of social networks. This a moment for Monterrey to pioneer again.
© 2011 The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington