Report Details Dangers of Social Media in Mexico

A report by Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) examines the danger faced by Mexican reporters, bloggers, and citizens utilizing social media as a tool against organized crime and corruption. The sample size of 102 journalists and bloggers is far from representative of the entire Mexican media, but the data is illustrative of the risks that people take to voice concerns, point out wrongdoing, and warn others of danger in Mexico.

Over two-thirds of the respondents claim to have been physically threatened or attacked due to their work; more than 95 percent said they knew colleagues who had been physically assaulted. Over half of the respondents name family and personal safety as their top security concerns.

Over two-thirds of digital respondents named espionage and e-mail hacking as their most prominent threats. Seventy percent of the journalists and bloggers said they utilize mobile technology for their work, but over 60 percent rated their proficiency in data encryption as poor-to-none, while more than 70 percent use no tools to remain anonymous online. Secure file storage and deletion, as well as utilizing Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are areas of weakness among the respondents. VPNs allow users to connect remotely to a server of their choice, often avoiding local servers and providing anonymity.

Compounding the issue of security is the use of social media, which offers reporters and bloggers a free and simple way to publish and share valuable information with the public. But it also represents an area on the Internet that allows organized crime groups and corrupt officials a way to identify and track down individuals whose publications pose a threat to them. According to the report, the greatest danger lies in mixing personal and professional social media accounts and/or blogs, as this can make it easier to identify the poster.

The report lists a number of recommendations for journalists and bloggers to bolster online security and minimize the risks. Education in the various types of online threats, as well as cultivating a culture that stresses cyber-security, are key.  This includes online and in-person programs which are aimed at helping journalists and bloggers “embrace security tools such as encryption software and platforms, safe e-mail providers, secure storage and erasing of documents.”

Since 1992, 70 staff journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Motives have been confirmed for just 28 of the deaths, but the large majority of those killed reported on crime. The numbers are likely incomplete, as they do not include every blogger, activist, or individual using social media to fight crime and corruption. The hope is that the recognition of cyber-threats as equally dangerous as physical threats will reduce the number of victims.