[Content Warning] There are going to be 8 pictures of dead bodies in this article, none of them are especially gory (relatively speaking) but there's a lot of blood in two of the pictures. If this isn't something you want to see, then I recommend viewing this page in reader mode with javascript turned off on your browser. The pictures are of the victims of the extrajudicial killings by police in Nuevo Laredo on September 5, 2019. The purpose for exhibiting these photographs is to show some of the indicators that the victims did not die in a gunfight like the police claimed. This is how my research started. Here's a story in English about what happened:

Human rights group accuses Tamaulipas cops of executing 9 in Nuevo Laredo

Briefly, the state police in Tamaulipas claimed that following several confrontations in which Cártel del Noreste (CDN) attacked security forces, the police chased the supposed aggressors to the Valles de Anáhuac neighborhood in the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo where a gunfight ensued. The police claimed 3 women and 5 men died in the gun battle.

[Content Warning]

One thing that immediately sticks out about the photos is that all the victims appear to have been killed with headshots. In the pictures in which the condition of the victim's head isn't clear, the lack of blood on the torsos and arms/legs of the victims indicates the fatal wound was probably in the head or neck area. What are the chances that 8 people were killed in a gunfight with headshots? Unlikely.

Something else that stands out: there aren't any brass (or steel) casings on the ground from spent ammo which we would expect to see if there had been a gun battle as the police initially claimed.

Another thing that's strange is that each victim was photographed with weapons in hand or in reach. Police are trained to secure a weapon from out of a combatant's reach as soon as possible because even a fatally wounded person with a gun is still very dangerous. Even if they look dead, the first thing they're trained to do is to take the weapon away. They apparently didn't do that.

If we look closer, we see a lot of untied or missing shoes. Occasionally you'll see victims with pants undone or clothing disheveled from the security forces moving the bodies (e.g. carrying them off of the street or into the the morgue), but these photos were presented as how each victim appeared in situ (i.e. rifle still in hand, etc.). What are the chances that these 8 people were out attacking police with their shoes untied or with no shoes on at all? Unlikely.

This was an especially egregious case, but there are many other times when there are some indications that the victims may have been executed or that the police may have staged the scene, but there's just not enough evidence to dispute the official account. Unless a human rights group presents an accusation (which of course requires evidence supporting the claim) that the killings were extrajudicial or that the police fabricated evidence, there isn't really anything else that can be done. A perfect example of the need for independent accountability mechanisms regarding the state's use of force.

Something else troubling about this incident and its aftermath: analysts at Stratfor surely saw the photos of the victims on social media. With even a casual examination of those photos most professionals would have likely noticed some indications that the victims had not been killed in a gunfight. So why was this piece published the day before the first press reports about the killings being extrajudicial? Stratfor only releases some of the articles they write in full, so what, if any, is the significance of this piece being released in its entirety? And more importantly, why hasn't Stratfor or Business Insider updated or corrected the article even 9 months later when the police responsible for the killings have been arrested or have had warrants issued for their arrest?

In the aftermath of the revelation that the 8 people killed on September 5 had been executed by the police, several of the most influential "citizen journalists" on social media spent about a week disputing evidence, smearing the victims and their families, and attacking the human rights official in Nuevo Laredo for alleged corruption and for defending the rights of criminals. Even in the face of indisputable photographic and video evidence showing the black truck being towed to the scene with a police escort, the "citizen journalists" never backed down or retracted any of the the claims they made. Even after the police responsible for the murders were arrested, these anonymous social media personalities never corrected the record. Their audiences have grown significantly since that time and their reputations apparently have not been affected. The reason for that is simple: lying has zero consequences for them because literally no one with any influence cares.

Security camera footage of the police towing the black truck to the crime scene

To say that these anonymous "citizen journalists" are influential regarding the subject of crime in Mexico is an understatement. A majority of the primary-source content and information passes directly from officials to several of the most prominent "citizen journalists" on Twitter. It's important to emphasize the centrality of Twitter in this network. Below is a diagram of how information and content generally spreads.

General rules for how content related to crime, violence and police activity spreads in Mexico

The false information shared widely and systematically regarding the September 5 killings isn't an isolated incident. Although it isn't possible to generalize about the motivations and views of all anonymous social media "citizen journalists" covering crime in Mexico, the most prominent personas do share some common characteristics which include a strong bias against MORENA/AMLO (nearly every crime in Mexico is an indictment of the president it seems) and unconditional support for the police and military. Several of the most prominent social media personas also seem to generally promote a narrative that comes directly from the security forces and/or the political opposition.

The medium of record on the subject of crime in Mexico is primarily the blogs like Blog del Narco, Borderland Beat, Valor Tamaulipeco and others. It should be pointed out that as of July 9, 2020, one of the only two people followed by the official Borderland Beat Twitter account is Loba Indomable, one of the most prominent anonymous personas spreading disinformation in the aftermath of the September 5 executions (just as an aside, it's also worth mentioning that the other anonymous "citizen journalist" followed by the official BB account is the original poster of the horrific Ingrid Escamilla photographs on Twitter which became an international story, and an account (@fernand17704066, formerly known as @L4ND3T4) which has been permanently banned from Twitter at least once before). On their blog, Borderland Beat also runs stories where the only source is a tweet from La Voz del Pueblo. This may seem petty but it isn't. Borderland Beat is THE English language record of the Drug War in Mexico, for better or worse. DEA, FBI, policymakers and more read it for information about crime in Mexico. If the information is coming directly from unreliable and biased or even compromised sources, then what does that make Borderland Beat?

This is why it's so important that journalists and human rights groups pay closer attention to what's happening on social media. As of now, the only information about what happens in many cases is a narrative directly from officials—officials with very poor records on honesty and human rights. The point of this isn't to smear anyone; Borderland Beat has been a very important source of information for as long as it's existed. The point here is that in the absence of any critical oversight or accountability, including from the blogs and media organizations themselves, malicious actors will inevitably take advantage of opportunities to manipulate the system. It's time to start paying attention.