Facebook Helps Organize Ciudad Juárez Residents Against Crime

Daniel Cruz Bautista and his fellow residents of Ciudad Juárez — about 1.5 million people living across the border from El Paso, Texas — call the most violent city in the world “home.” Despite gruesome statistics, Bautista and other Facebook activists have begun to use the social network to organize protests, vigils and other forms of resistance in an effort to save their city. Here’s a closer look at their efforts.

As Facebook becomes an ever more important part of the lives of 400 million people, the ways in which both civilians and police use it are evolving. We recently reported on ways in which police are using Facebook to fight crime in the United States. Mexico has seen tremendous growth in Facebook use recently, having grown by nearly 1 million people over the course of January to reach 7.62 million, which we cover in our monthly Global Monitor report.

Ciudad Juárez has become one of the primary staging points of infighting between Mexico’s drug cartels, leading to its distinction as the city with highest per capita murder rate in the world in 2009 where more than 2,600 people were killed.

Facebook activists organizing here seized upon a January 31 shooting in which 15 teenagers with no drug ties were killed; the online fervor swelled again when President Felipe Calderón visited twice in a period of six days, to try to address the city’s discontent.

Bautista, like others organizing on Facebook, says he’s not an activist — he’s a librarian who decided to take a stand against the violence by starting a Facebook group called “Ya Basta de Violencia en Juárez!!” (Enough With the Violence in Juárez). He started the group on a Sunday, recently; by that Thursday more than 6,000 people had joined him there to discuss the violence, propose ways to stop it, criticize ineffective governance and brainstorm ways to take their online resistance to the real world. The group’s currently 9,000 strong and like the Walls of many other groups, comments reflect heavy discussions about politics and strategies, but also serves as a place to share photos and events.

“The role of Facebook is really important not only in the protests, but in many other facets, too. It’s changed things, increasing the capacity of communication for the groups that organize these events. More and more groups are created criticizing the government, it’s a form of pressure,” Baustita told us in an email, adding that connecting with people from Facebook offline also helped charge the movement. “I don’t have experience fighting for social justice, but lots of people with experience attended the protest and we learned from them.”

Activists taking to Facebook are protesting as much against the drug cartels and corrupt police forces as they are against a government they view as ineffective. It’s largely because government solutions have been unable to solve these problems that the activists we spoke to said Facebook has been something of a saving grace, allowing them to reach untold thousands of people around the world who are interested in the Juárez issue, Bautista said. It’s free, comes with specific features like groups, Pages and events, includes easy ways to upload multimedia, and it’s a relatively safe place for people to freely express themselves. And, unlike most social networks, it people who use it are doing so via their real identities; while this can create some risk for users, it also helps like-minded people connect. Activists we interviewed say Facebook will continue to play prominently in their future plans.

Ciudad Juárez’s violence has inspired a range of Facebook activity.

There’s a Facebook group created by Twitteros, or those active on Twitter, there’s an informal page of 2,700 fans who say they’ve had it “to here” with the lack of security, a fan page created for Luz María Dávila whose two sons died in the January 31 shooting and a peaceful group of 1,066 calling for everyone to try and find a solution. Some groups have thousands of members, but there are dozens of groups and a few Pages related to Juárez with less than 100 members with with varying levels of activity.

Sergio Lopez Serrano runs one such Page, Justice 4 Mexico, which only has 36 fans, but is composed mostly of criminologists in Ciudad Juárez who are able to come together despite differing schedules on Facebook. He tells us via email that the group has been organizing for two years and only recently turned to Facebook for a few different reasons.

For one, Serrano hopes Facebook’s global reach will allow people around the world to see the “real Mexico” and create some international pressure on the government. Secondly, he said Facebook allowed for an alternative perspective from the mainstream media, which tends to be monopolized by official government sources, and enables his small group and others like it to reach diverse segments of Mexican society.

Twitter has also proved to be a place where Juárez’s virtual activists congregate, as a handful of hashtags — #15×15, #vigiliaporjuarez, #contingentetuiter, #cartaporJuarez — were also used to organize recent protests, share photos, criticize the government, allow activists to find each other in other Mexican cities, pool resources and disseminate information.

Protests and vigils on February 13 were organized largely through Facebook and Twitter and even President Calderón admitted that he had perused Facebook comments to see what people were saying about Juárez.

Searching through Facebook and Twitter reveals that there is a core membership of virtual activists who travel groups sharing information and ideas. Katia Sagaon is one of them. The 30 year-old works in human resources and helps administer the 4,000-member group “Jóvenes Por Juárez” (Young People For Juárez) that launched in November after a brutal shooting and, after two weeks, it grew to 3,000 members.

In December Jóvenes Por Juárez organized a protest that Sagaon estimated drew 3,000 people and February’s protests were also heavily discussed on the group’s Wall. Sagaon spent lots of time trying to keep the peace by moderating between pro-government posters and those critical of official responses to the violence, ultimately she called the effort in December a “virtual war,” that included opposed factions and online saboteurs. One of the group’s organizers was prohibited by his bosses to use Facebook at work (where Sagaon says many people in Juárez connect to the Internet) and to end his participation with the group.

Still, Sagaon explains that Facebook allowed Jóvenes Por Juárez to effectively organize by reaching many people with lots of information at once for free and getting their immediate feedback, something people may have previously done with IM or email at a slower pace and without the benefit of knowing peoples’ real identities. She pointed to growth in the group’s membership as proof; before the January 31 killings the group had 3,800 fans, afterward it grew to 3,950, and after President Calderón’s visits the group passed 4,000. This growth is partly attributable to Facebook’s penetration with people from better-off socioeconomic classes, who she said wouldn’t usually come out to protest in the street, but became involved on Facebook as “virtual activists,” who like herself are more likely to protest online than in the real world.

“Facebook gives you the opportunity to express ideas and opinions that you can’t right now in the city,” she said, in reference to the sporadic killings of reporters in Ciudad Juárez. “It gives you the freedom to express yourself to a public. You can say ‘I hate the president,’ but to a public of your contacts.”

Recent Facebook protests have received the attention of the mainstream media, politicos and activists, but it remains to be seen what effects social media activism in Ciudad Juárez will have in the long term. President Calderón has promised reforms, even as more people have died in the days following his visits to Ciudad Juárez, but Sagaon tells us that she and others like her will continue to utilize the tools available to them through Facebook and, hopefully fulfill the group’s mission statement to “be the present to have a better future.”

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10 Responses to “Facebook Helps Organize Ciudad Juárez Residents Against Crime”

  1. Lenka says:

    ever since you updated facebook half of the apps doesn’t work and if works it take ages. i have the latest version of adobe flash and so i can not upgrade it anymore even it is telling me to do so. So please FIX IT, thank you

  2. Zay says:

    @ Lenka
    Your comment its totally RUDE and OUT of place. Facebook is sharing a story about people being killed violently in Mexico and all you can say is complain about how slow Facebook have been since it changed.
    Shows the lack of sense people like you have.

    This story really touched my heart, I pray for the people in Mexico, you’re in my thoughts.

  3. Liam says:

    @lenka

    Your comment is completely inconsiderate and out of place, you obviously didn’t bother readIng the article. If you have a problem With Facebook you should contact support and not post it on articles about serious topics.

  4. Alejandra says:

    @lenka

    I live in the border of Juarez, El paso Tx. Since all these crimes started to happen my family and I had to LITERALLY move a few months ago, change everything in our lifes just because some people decided to MURDER our city. It may seem easy to read or think, but is not at all. To know that most of your family is still living in Juarez because is not easy at all having to change your life suddenly to pay for rent or buy a house at a different city, change school, jobs, etc JUST BECAUSE some people, again, decided to disappear Juarez.
    So YES, it bothers you that some apps on facebook aren’t working. IMAGINE how it bothers US that every single day we say to our authorities and Government “please FIX IT, thank you” AND NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE.

    I assume you live at a peaceful place, so your “major concern” is that the apps are taking AGES to load, well the murders of so many INOCENT people have been taking place FOR AGES as well, and that really IS a problem.
    Like the people here above said, you just show lack of sense and interest for the actual world.
    I hope facebook owners help you with your “big problem”.
    As for me, my family and friends, we will still have to worry about this HUGE and sad problem being solved.

  5. Quique says:

    This is an interesting article but what solutions are any of the players proposing? The obvious one is to first legalize marijuana (which is where most of the drug cartel money is coming from) so that that market is taken away from the cartels. You don’t see people committing murder over beer or cigarettes, do you? Please see: http://www.mpp.org/news/press-releases/dc/us-mexico-drug-summit-fails.html

  6. Doug Ross says:

    To those who wrote in, I think that both are true, the writer is experiencing some slow applications, and there is a serious problem at hand in Ciudad Juarez that could use networking to solve. I have had some problems figuring out Facebook myself and am looking forward to the day where its tech is less “photo album” and less meet-your-dream person. There are no dream persons out there except those with useful and big dreams.
    Doug

  7. donia says:

    bonsoir ça va

  8. joel says:

    I have problem uploading my pictures…i have found out that when i upload a big amount of pictures for maybe 100 photos, and once it finishes, a notice appears and telling me that Upload Fail.

    I would like to know whether the problem is with my internet connection that causes this problem or is it Facebook?

  9. katrina says:

    Where do I join?

  10. Katia says:

    @Katrina
    If you want to join Jovenes por Juarez you can at facebook, just search for the name and the logo will appear. we have other web pages and an e-mail you can write to jovenesporjuarez@hotmail.com

    @Quique
    We are working in so many different projects right now you will be amaze! I can mention the 3 main:
    1.-Working with the Federal Government to “train” high school kids to intervene and support their peers in critical situations like drugs, eating disorders, problems with drug dealers or gangs, and others.. this is an awesome program called Sensores.
    2.- Working in the new and unique NET to include all the Organizations of young people in Juarez, and many projects relate to this.. all kind of organizations.
    3.-Negotiating and working with Federal Government resources and support for a new Institute for young people, parks, schools, working in the groups formed by our president’s people in all areas of society (education, social work, security, etc..)
    Send us an email!
    Regards!
    Katia Sagaon

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