A couple of months ago when looking through my Twitter lists I discovered the suggestion feature. It will suggest accounts you should add to your Twitter list based on who you already have included. It stumbled me upon this Twitter account ran by members of the Special Operations Group or Grupo de Operaciones Especiales. In 2020, another unit was created, this one called GOPES. The Twitter account, @GOF_Tm, was created in October of 2019 but before that they've had a Facebook account that was created in September of 2018. It raises genuine questions about what their intentions are and if they are operating any other social media accounts. Increasingly over the years skepticism have arisen towards some of the anonymous citizen reporter social media accounts that focus on Tamaulipas. Some of whom provide information that clearly is coming from sources within law enforcement. Add to that the sometimes cryptic messaging and nondescript media uploaded, the situation starts to stink a whole of a lot more.
Social media and Tamaulipas
I don't know if an official chronology has been written yet in regards to social media reporting of organized crime activities in Mexico. Tamaulipas would surely be somewhere around the beginning of it all, Monterrey and Veracruz as well. Twitter hashtags like #reynosafollow, #mtyfollow and #verfollow were some of the first ones to pop up almost ten years ago. Some of the first journalists to be murdered from posting things on social media were in Tamaulipas. If you've ever wondered why there are more accounts focused on Tamaulipas than other states. This is why, a lot of it started in Tamaulipas and in those towns.
We have to remember that Twitter was a vastly different place back then. The website launched in 2006 and all of this stuff started popping up 2008-2010. There was research done in 2015 that details some of the exact problems we face today. It concludes with:
We have shown that social media creates an alternate “user-generated” channel of communication that can address weaknesses in information flow. However, this new channel comes with its own challenges such as issues of trust, reputation, and misinformation.
Various solutions have shown their own weaknesses. On the one hand, government regulation has the potential of cooling free speech: fear of punishment can undermine people's willingness to contribute to a common good.
Additionally, there is a common refrain among proponents of social media in Mexico that argue that the government needs to use social media if it wants more control of information flow. However, as the case presented here show, it is not only a matter of being present but about engaging in fruitful interactions overtime that can help the government, just as anyone else, to gain reputation and credibility among social media users.
That last sentence is the most important part. Not only does the government need to be present but it needs to engage, in order to "gain reputation and credibility among social media users."
In the beginning many groups, civilians, criminals and law enforcement were all trying to figure out how to react to this new age of information exchange called social media. Based on how criminal groups responded, one could conclude that they felt threatened. Quickly though they would have realized that it would be impossible to hunt down every single person who said something unflattering about them on social media. Also in this moment they'd have realized sitting on the social media sidelines wasn't an option. Like the old adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" and that is what they did.
Law enforcement as well realizing that it wouldn't be able to sit this one out. So over the last ten years we have seen built this current information clusterfuck that consists of many actors. As I mentioned there has been a blurring of lines in the who's who. In the beginning things seemed more obvious, you had obvious civilians, obvious official law enforcement accounts, and then kind of a swelling mix of questionables. In the present moment though that is hardly the case, one example being this unofficial account used by Tamaulipas State Police.
It didn't happen as frequently in 2020 but the year before that we had a number of questionable incidents happen in Tamaulipas, some of which have been documented thoroughly on this website. In many of these cases the government of Tamaulipas was silent. In almost all of these incidents we would have pictures uploaded to social media before there was even a peep out of the press. I know the information in Guanajuato coming from the government is far from perfect but it feels day and night different from Tamaulipas. Also, while similar situations happen in Guanajuato usually the press is on the scene shortly after.
Understandably such environments become ripe for rumors, social media making their dissemination all the more effective. To make matters worse in many of the circumstances the information was coming from unofficial sources and random social media accounts, some of whom don the nickname of the police unit in question. It's baffling publications such as Proceso would publish information from anonymous social media accounts with questionable ties. Why does this information not come directly from authorities?
All of this creates a significant problem in the information landscape. Adding to the uncertainty and level of trust members of the public have in law enforcement. Not only is bad information mostly in circulation but the government has done little to counter that with their own information. In some cases doing the opposite, further polluting the landscape with thuggish pictures from unofficial social media accounts.
In 2015 Celia Del Palacio Montiel from Universidad Veracruzana published a paper titled Print journalism, powers and violence in Veracruz 2010-2014. Information control strategies. It speaks on strategies used against printed and digital newspapers to control the information on violence in the state of Veracruz. It has at times been the most dangerous place for journalists in the country. Between 2010-2015 there were 12 journalists killed, four disappeared and an unknown silenced who fled the state.
Silence and violence
In Veracruz, the media have stopped disseminating information about violent events, without making it explicit: television newscasts dedicated to this type of information have disappeared and the red-note sections of the newspapers have been slowly thinning, filling with full-page ads or information from other states of the Republic.
These editorial decisions are the result of pressure from powerful groups, both organized crime groups and the authorities, who found in the press a way to implement and disseminate their own communication (and propaganda) strategies with intimidation tactics ( Article 19, 2013, p. 21).
In the case of the state of Veracruz, violence had a drastic rebound in 2011. In particular, violence associated with drug trafficking, which in 2010 was concentrated in municipalities in the north of the state, such as Pánuco and Poza Rica, in the early days In 2011 (the first months of Javier Duarte's administration) it advanced towards Veracruz-Boca del Río and Xalapa (Martínez & Carrasco, 2011).
The media did not report on such violence, or they did so in a biased and / or partial way, saying that they were clashes between criminal groups, hiding the number of deaths, etc. The government institutions did not then disclose the acts of violence that took place and until January 2015 the governor continued to reiterate that nothing was happening in the state. In a state that ranks sixth in reports of kidnappings (24, in the first two months of 2014) (Zavaleta, 2014) there is almost complete control of the state government over the information that circulates in the media, particularly about violence, be it of the common law or that related to organized crime. It is important to note, however, that this information has important variations within the state: in the capital, Xalapa, the stories on these issues are increasingly scarce and even in certain printed newspapers such as AZ, the stories on local violence have almost disappeared .
As has happened in other places, Veracruz has largely become a "black hole" from which it has been tried not to leave or enter information about violence that occurred in the state. [Google Translate]
This is largely what we observe going on in Tamaulipas. She continues, talking about rumors and social networks.
In this context of media silencing, rumor has an unbeatable breeding ground. While the lack of information in the media prevails, consumer demand increased, particularly in the years 2011-2012, when shootings and cross fires were frequent in certain areas of the state. Rumors were expressed and proliferated throughout the Internet. According to surveys, a significant number of people are users of social networks in Veracruz and this number has had a sustained growth.
As has happened in other cities in the northeast of the country, in Veracruz social networks (Facebook and Twitter) have been an alternative source of information - sometimes the only possible one - but they have also functioned as magnifiers of rumors that circulate word of mouth. . And the authorities, in the face of rumors, have tried to exercise forceful control actions. The most serious was the one against two tweeters in 2011, who were arrested for spreading rumors about violence. In September 2011, the state penal code was modified to classify the crime of disturbing public order. Despite never having been applied and having been annulled by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in 2013 ("Court invalidates the Duarte Law that condemned tweeters in Veracruz", 2013), this fact did affect the freedom of information, creating a climate of fear in the state.
We maintain, together with Article 19 (2013), that the uncertainty that was caused as a result of this case was not the absolute responsibility of those who circulated the rumors, and of course it is not the fault of the interconnection between citizens, but of the lack of information and credibility of the authorities. [Google Translate]
Governments have been quick to deflect responsibility to the mess that is social media. Many times not realizing that it is their own bad information or lack thereof that complicates the situation. Bad information is only successfully countered with good information. Less information is also never the answer because the demand will be met by bad information. The only solution is to maintain a presence and engage effectively.
The usage of the Punisher logo by police is nothing new and far from exclusive to cops in Tamaulipas. Many different publications have written articles speaking on it's history and relation. It got to a point where the writer and creator of the Punisher from the original comic book series said to SyFyWire
"When cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they're basically sides with an enemy of the system,"
"Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw—he is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol."
The question must be asked then what are the intentions of unofficial social media accounts like these. I don't believe it is difficult to understand the negative affect that they could be having on public perception and trust. Identical behavior has been reprimanded in the United States in the past.
These days the Tamaulipas government maintains a large presence on social media through an assortment of accounts on both Twitter and Facebook. Now more than ever it is crucial for law enforcement authorities to maintain productive and healthy relationships with the public through social media. If you observe the official accounts used by Tamaulipas law enforcement authorities you will see a much different picture than this. Showing that they are quite aware of the correct ways in which things should be done. It makes things all the more interesting trying to understand what the purpose of this unofficial account might be.
In the past have been observed impersonation on both sides. You have criminal actors attempting to impersonate cops and on the flip side cops trying to impersonate criminals. One would like to hope that the latter is being only done in small instances. That it is not something baked into the institution, though the frequencies at which such imitations occur calls that concern into question. It is expected of law enforcement to set an example which is hardly being done in this case. In an effort to combat bad information with good information they have done the opposite. Instead adding more bad information into the ecosystem. Incidents happen and instead of information coming from official channels it comes from unofficial. This is unacceptable and unprofessional and it would be foolish to think that this is the right way for the government of Tamaulipas to build trust among it's citizenry.