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Prominent social media researcher shines light on modern Mexico

Monroy-Hernandez addresses Twitter’s role in shaping current events and informing the public

News Editor

Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 16:09

Social Media

KRISTEN GREEN ’14, News Editor

Dr. Andres Monroy Hernandez addresses a filled classroom on trends in Twitter usage in Mexico.

Wellesley was host to Dr. Andres Monroy-Hernandez, who addressed members of the College community yesterday evening in a lecture entitled, “#Hashtags versus Talking Heads: How Mexicans are Using Social Media to Fight Narco-Censorship and Political Manipulation.”

Monroy-Hernandez, a post-doctoral researcher at Microsoft and fellow at Harvard University Beckman Center for Internet and Society, spoke to an overflowing lecture hall about the use of Twitter during recent controversial periods in Mexico’s history. Touching on the country’s ongoing drug war, recent presidential election and current student movement, “Yo Soy #132” (“I am #132”), Monroy-Hernandez revealed the shifting reality that is Mexican media.

With internet usage increasing at a rapid pace within the country, jumping from 17 percent in 2000 to 34 percent in 2010, Monroy-Hernandez claimed that social media is playing an increasingly important role in Mexican society, especially as government and the traditional media are perceived as less reliable by many.

“In a country like the U.S., when there is an emergency... two entities respond to this event. There is the government... and there is the media,” he said. “[In Mexico], journalists are really afraid of reporting what is happening in the streets.”

Monroy-Hernandez then described his research, centered around four major Mexican cities, Monterrey, Reynosa, Saltillo and Veracruz—all of which have experienced substantial increases in violence since President Calderon began the drug war in 2006. According to the lecturer, citizens on Twitter in Mexico  or “Tuiteros” frequently report what traditional media, such as newspapers, cannot or will not.

Tuiteros, especially those Monroy-Hernandez dubs “curators” (Twitter users who tweet often and have many thousands of followers), often report on drug-war related incidents within their communities.

“The number of tweets does match, somewhat, the level of violence the city experiences,” he explained.

Eventually, he turned discussion to Mexico’s most recent election, which saw Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) elected as the country’s newest president.

Monroy-Hernandez described YoSoy#132, as a movement whose visibility skyrocketed after its anti-Peña Nieto campaign took to Twitter and YouTube.

“In general, social media gives visibility to things and events we may not have noticed before,” he said.

The event was well-received by many students, including those whose professors in the Spanish Department required them to attend the event for class credit.

“I think it was really interesting. I didn’t know a lot about what he was talking about, but I think [social media] has a lot of power and influence, so it’s important to learn about that,” a first-year attendee said.

Other students also enjoyed the lecture. Mariajose Rodriquez ’16, an international student from Monterrey, Mexico, one of the cities highlighted in Monroy-Hernandez’s research, agreed that the lecture provided important information about Mexican society.

“I decided to come because I’m from Mexico, and I’m interested in what goes on there,” she said. “As someone close to what happens in the country, I think he did a good job of explaining the media’s presence in modern times.”

This media presence, Monroy-Hernandez explained near the end of his lecture, is one that has changed significantly in Mexico in recent years, especially as journalists’ fear of retribution by drug cartels increases. 

Although Monroy-Hernandez explained the benefits of the rise of social media as a replacement for the traditional media, he also explained its limitations—touching on its tendency to exclude those without internet access, including the poor and rural-dwellers.

Despite the professed limitations of social media, Roriguez expressed acceptance of these new forms of news reporting, especially in light of, what she calls unrealistic portrayals of Mexico’s president-elect in traditional Mexican papers.

“Even if we don’t like the media, we have to accept it,” she explained. “It’s a part of our life.”

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