As Drug War Rages, Tweets Reveal Mexicans’ Emotional Numbness

As Mexican drug cartels have grown in power over the past several years, their ascent has sparked a sharp increase in murders and kidnappings. The physical toll in several areas of the country is staggering: An estimated 100,000 people are dead or missing, caught up in fighting among the cartels, government forces and recently formed paramilitary groups trying to control the drug gangs in regions where local police have proved ineffective. The emotional impact of the prolonged violence is more difficult to quantify, a situation worsened by targeted violence against many of the country’s news outlets reporting on the drug war.

A team of researchers seeking to better understand the mental state of Mexicans exposed to the ongoing conflict has turned to social media as an end run around the country’s embattled mainstream media. Their findings indicate a growing level of desensitization to the violence among a certain segment of the population, in this case users of the microblogging service Twitter.

Mexicans who wanted to report their experiences initially turned to social media to circumvent a state-imposed media blackout designed to mask the country’s problems to the rest of the world, says Andrés Monroy-Hernández, a researcher in Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs. “I found I was getting more information from Twitter about what was really happening than I was from newspapers and TV news,” he adds.

Monroy-Hernández—along with colleagues at Microsoft and the University of California, Irvine—has been covering Twitter’s rise as a reporting tool in war-torn regions of Mexico for the past few years. A 2012 study with fellow Microsoft researchers entitled “Narcotweets: Social Media in Wartime” analyzed Mexican microblogging as an alternative to newspapers and TV stations unwilling or unable to portray actual conditions in the country. A second paper—“The New War Correspondents: The Rise of Civic Media Curation in Urban Warfare”—followed last year and focused on citizen curators who had taken to aggregating and disseminating crucial information to Mexican citizens via social media. They warned locals to avoid certain dangerous areas during daily travel to and from work, for example.

– Read the entire article at Scientific American.