Can Mexico Police Narcos in Cyberspace?

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In its zeal to destroy drug cartels, the Mexican government is cracking down on social media users. One idea is to create an agency to police cyberspace.

As of this week cell phones in Mexico must be registered with the government in an effort to crack down on drug cartel members. Now the government is considering legislation to monitor and regulate Facebook and Twitter, according to Time magazine.

Members of the left-leaning Revolutionary Democratic Party have drafted a bill to monitor and regulate the use of Twitter and Facebook. The bill makes information sharing that helps people break the law a criminal penalty.

Drug cartel members often use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to communicate messages to one another or to intimidate the populace. A recent Twitter user, according to Time, incited panic in Reynosa after posting the following threat:

“The largest scheduled shootout in the history of Reynosa will be tomorrow or Sunday, send this message to people you trust that tomorrow a convoy of 60 trucks full of cartel hitmen from the Michoacan Family together with members of the Gulf Cartel are coming to take the city and take everyone out alive or dead!”

These kind of emails terrorize cities and shut down businesses, schools and other public institutions. And there is no way to determine whether the threat is real or not until something happens.

Narcos use social media to avoid government roadblocks and to romanticize their bloodshed in corridos on YouTube. If you’ve ever watched any of the narco YouTube videos it is truly sad, awful and horrifying stuff.

But can the government shut down social media in Mexico? No way guey.

If anything it will be a giant cat and mouse game. How will the Mexican government monitor social media sites that are run by private entities? Will they create nanny filters in the China mold or create an agency that scans for certain words used online like the NSA?

Will government officials contact Facebook and YouTube and demand that certain sites be closed down? By the time they locate the offending sites the narcos will be long gone, only to pop up somewhere else in cyberspace.

Clearly, there are a lot of questions. There’s also a lot of misinformation out there in cyberspace about the plans the Mexican government has up its sleeve. One Twitter user recently posted that the government will shut down any Facebook page that criticizes President Felipe Calderon.

There’s no doubt that narcos in cyberspace cause real damage in the real world. But maybe the Mexican government should save its money to combat poverty and create jobs, to keep people from becoming narcos in the first place.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.