Feb. 21, 2012— -- A Facebook page in Mexico that updates people on roadblocks, shootouts and other risky drug war situations in the border state of Tamaulipas has registered 100,000 followers in only a month.
It's also attracted some less savory attention: Alleged criminals now appear to be on the lookout for the anonymous administrator behind the page.
The Facebook page, called Valor por Tamaulipas (Courage for Tamaulipas), was launched on January 1. Last week, an unidentified group started to distribute fliers in several municipalities of Tamaulipas, offering 600,000 pesos -- about $47,000 -- for any information that would lead to the capture of the blogger behind Valor Por Tamaulipas, or any of this person's relatives. The unsigned message includes a cellphone number that potential bounty hunters can call.
In response to the threats, the administrator of Valor Por Tamaulipas posted a short explanation on Facebook about the page's mission. "I'm not trying to be a hero. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do as a citizen and a member of society before the threat that organized crime poses to the stability of our state and country," the message said.
Dozens of messages of support from Facebook users in Mexico, the United States and other countries followed.
"Although your modesty leads you to deny it, you are truly a hero," wrote Facebook user Jorge Salinas. "There are many people who admire what you do and talk about it."
In border cities like Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Ciudad Juarez, reporting on the local cartel wars is an extremely risky task for local journalists, who are often subject to death threats and kidnappings. Some newspapers, such as Nuevo Laredo´s El Mañana, have even said outright that they will not report on local shootings, roadblocks and other incidents related to cartel violence, because of threats from criminal groups.
The situation has led local residents to turn to social media for information about what is happening in their neighborhoods. Valor por Tamaulipas is one of those sites, providing hourly updates on violent acts that break out across the state.
But informing people through social media is also very risky.
In September 2011, Elizabeth Macias Castro, chief editor for the daily newspaper "Primera Hora," was found decapitated in a public plaza near Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. A message was attached to her body accusing her of collaborating with the army and marine intelligence services by posting updates about criminal activities in the city on her personal blog.
Two weeks before, a couple in their twenties, identified as Twitter users by local authorities, were found hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo. A message was left at the crime scene warning everyone to keep away from social media sites that openly criticize drug cartels.
In an email exchange with BBC Mundo, the anonymous administrator of Valor por Tamaulipas identified himself as a man but gave no further personal details. He wrote that he feared for his life, but he also said that threats would not deter him from continuing with his task.
"Organized crime is implacable with people who talk about violence in my state and if you do this you are gaining a death sentence for yourself" the administrator wrote. "A page like Valor For Tamaulipas challenges the power [of drug dealers] and their capacity to intimidate."