Social Media a Tool for Safety in Mexico

For the past couple years the problems of drug-related fighting that occur in the US border area of Mexico has been in the news. The Mexican towns on the northern border are more and more affected by the violent mafias, and because transporting and selling the illegal drugs is profitable, different mafias fight to gain control of the system. Now things are getting much worse and the population in Mexico is very concerned about how to deal with this problem.

I was chatting online with a Mexican friend of mine in Torreón, a city in northern Mexico, who told me:

“I’m very sad. My city is not as it used to be. We can’t have fun anymore– for example, all the clubs are closed. There are killings and shootings everyday. The mafia have guns that are more powerful than the Mexican military and the police department.

“More than 80 percent of the people who die are innocent. The cartels are here in my city and the situation just gets worse. Between 10 to 18 people are killed every day. This week my friend facebooked me and said that more than 100 people our age died.

“I avoid to walk by some government building because they are being attacked. I am scared. Please pray for us.”

She was also explaining to me why social media is starting to be used more and more. Apparently most of the news and the TV programs there do not want to tell the entire truth because of fear that it would cause panic in the Mexican population, and to preserve the image of the country.

Therefore, because of the lack of information people have started to use social media to communicate about the drug-related fighting and share what they have seen and experienced. My friend told me that she learns much of the information now through Twitter and Facebook. She emphasized that she relies more on Facebook because it is more popular than Twitter.

Residents are trying to help each other by alerting their friends and family of horrible things that are happening.  For example, a video was created and posted on YouTube with the idea to help the residents to create anonymous Twitter accounts to be able to anonymously report the locations of where the drug cartels are active. This would help citizens to avoid this location, and help the police and military to go to the location and fight with the mafia.

Social media is becoming a safety tool for the Mexican population. Many of them are constantly checking the online information.

Even though social media is helping the residents, they should also be alert to the risks of social media. My friend explained why:

“Social media is great and I use it all the time. I read the information and I post information if I see something that seems suspicious. But social media is kind of dangerous too. Because we receive some invitations to become friends with some people that we don`t know and the person who just requested to be our friend can be a guy from the cartel.

If we accept, they can see our friends and contacts. They can learn about our life, which is really dangerous. Here in Mexico the news programs are always recommending to block strangers, and be careful with the information we share on Facebook. The cartels are using social media to avoid the police.  But I still think that social media is the best way to help me knowing what is happening.”

After talking to my friend about the drug violence situation in Mexico and the use of social media among the residents, I came to the conclusion that social media is being seen as more positive than negative. Even though there is an alert regarding the danger of social media in the drug war I strongly believe that social media is the better place for Mexican citizens to get and share information.

A few years ago I worked as a journalist in Brazil, and during my experience I was disappointed in how things work, at least in Brazil, in terms of the manipulation of the information in the news. I thought that as a journalist I would be able to say the truth of things out loud but it was an illusion. The articles were edited so many times that at the end half of the information was gone. But now through the social media we can get more detailed information about events at the time they are happening.  So I can understand how in the case of the drug war in Mexico it is better to have the social media as an information sharing tool, even knowing the dangers of it.


Social Media – Is it for South Africa?

I must say that prior to my readings about social media in Africa I had a quite narrow view of the subject. The only thing I knew about communications technology related to South Africa was that they are the fastest growing mobile market in the entire world.

One teacher from my graduate program was talking about this in class. Thinking back I should have given a little more consideration for the use of social media in class since many of the social media tools are mobile compatible.

Unfortunately, I am not the only one who had the wrong concept about social media in South Africa. During my readings, I realized that many people still see South Africa in general as s country with limited infrastructure and a place which suffers from poverty. They have a hard time imagining that a country that remains with basic electricity problems is some areas could possibly think of the internet.

After learning a bit on this subject, I`m glad to say that I changed my mind and I don`t see South Africa in this scenario anymheore. I think that things are changing and there is a big opportunity there. “It`s time for Africa,” as the official World Cup song says.

Let`s get back to my point. Social Media is possible in South Africa and if I had the money, I would certainly invest there. Now, I will give you some cases so you have a better reason to believe me. Here are some successful examples of some social media websites:

  • Afrigator: A search engine and blog directory. It`s has 8000 indexed South African blogs. I think that this site is an excellent place for a brand to advertise.
  • Blueworld: A social network community for South Africa. It`s a place where users can find friends, watch videos, join and create new groups and blog. At the time that I was looking at this community there were 3143 members online.
  • Zoopy: The first video and photo sharing social network. It can be used in different countries but it targets South Africa.
  • Muti.coza: It`s a social bookmarking for Africans or people that are interested in Africa. It`s like Digg in the USA. It`s pretty active and I think that it has potential for growth.
  • Ushahidi: A web mapping application that reports incidents of violence and efforts for peace by location.  The idea here is to create a space where people could pass the information via SMS, web or email. Once this person sends the information anyone that uses the platform can get the update and see it on the map. According to the website, “Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response”.
  • Amatomou: A space where you can learn about South Africa and read South African blogs. You can find blogs in different categories such as business, technology, sport, life, humor, religion, etc.
  • SEACOM: It`s the first cable provider that brings international cable channel to South Africa connecting Africa to the world.

If you are not convinced yet I also want to mention a few NGOs that have been doing an excellent job by using social media. The three NGO I will mention were the winners of the 2009 South African NGO web awards in the category of best use of social media.

I spent a few hours reading about their work and I think that they are going in the right direction because they know how to engage and embrace their audience. They have a strong reason to do what they do and are able to make other people believe in them and follow their work. These NGOs provide benefits and promote positive change.

Finally, the last thing I did to prove to you that Social Media in South Africa is possible was to check a few African blog and I contact a blogger in Africa named Mac-Jordan. He is very passionate about Social Media. While he is not South African he has a strong understanding of the potencial of social media in Africa generally. He has two blogs: “Rambling`s of a Ghanian Social Blogger” and “My thoughts, ideas and ramblings about ACCRA“.

Talking to him about Social Media in South Africa these were his thoughts:

“Social Media in Ghana & South Africa is really big. I expect the growth of Social Media to be as big as the growth of mobile phones in Ghana/South Africa. It needs a drive; fast and affordable internet.

“In the future, which will be soon, Social Media will be what people will turn to for news in South Africa and not radios and tv stations. Social Media will be a big platform for advertising and political campaigns.

“I think the people embracing Social Media at the highest level in South Africa are the middle class between 20 and 35. I think this group uses the most smart-phones and are more active in adopting new technologies. Will probably take my time, do some research and blog about this :)”

When it comes to social media, “It`s time for Africa!”

Threadless successfully Using Social Media

Many companies in North America are using social media in order to create brand awareness and generate word of mouth (WOM). Social Networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube and LinkedIn are used as well crowsourcing.

In this post, I would like to talk how the company Threadless is successfully using social media tools in innovative ways. Threadless, was founded by Jack Nickell and Jacob DeHart; they started the company with only $1,000. Since it was founded the company has grown quickly.

Why the success? Crowdsourcing is the answer.

Crowdsourcing:  The act of taking a job traditionally performed by an internal agent and outsourcing it to a group of people.  Presenting a task to the outside world without knowing what will result. Crowdsourcing consistently produces outputs that could not be created by organizations.

Threadless t-shirts have no corporate designers. This is the way it works: Every week about 700 participants create their T-shirt designs which are displayed on the website. Then the online community can vote for their favorite design, and out of all the competitors only six get to be printed as T-shirts. $2,000 awards are given for the winners.

You might ask, but what does Threadless get out of it? That’s easy: since users are all connected to the process by voting on their favorite designers, when the T-shirts are printed they are the first ones to purchase them.

However, before you start thinking that you are ready to create a business usingcrowds you better think twice because in order to succeed you need to show to the crowd that that you care, and will keep them engaged.

Threadless has being doing a great job in that sense. Visitors keep coming back to the website because Threadless gives users incentives to return. For example, if the user uploads a picture of himself using a Threadless T-shirt he will receive store credits, and if the user also refers the site to a friend and his friend buys a shirt this provides even more store credit.

On the Threadless website visitors are encouraged to write posts, comments and interact with the community.

Curious about their store? Check it out on the website

By the way if you end up buying a T-shirt don`t forget to say that I referred you– this way I can gain store credit!

Weekly Blog #11: Social Media

This week the discussion is, “Imagine the 2012 US presidential election campaign and think what will be the key factor to win the election.”

After learning all the different social media tools and how to apply all of them, I believe the key to the 2012 election will be to dominate by social media. (I hope to be right, if not, my apology.)

To win an election you need to bring people that are fighting for the same cause together and social media facilitates this connection.

Therefore, the candidate who wants to win the election should be 100% integrated with this new trend.

Understanding the power of online communities, how they are formed, and how to communicate with them is important. Once you start to interact with those communities, you know if they are talking about you and what else they are taking about. You learn about what voters are looking for and establish a connection with them. Moreover, once this connection is strongly formed you will gain a Buzz that will be passed along millions of people. That`s another important factor of social media: it can pass your message along fast and to a large number of people.

Therefore, if you are planning to be the next US president you’d better start your online grassroots campaign and let me JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

Weekly Blog #10: War

Is seeing and reading about war in blogs a good thing or a bad thing? Should we have this much access to the front lines? My answer is YES, it is a good thing! Back in 2006 I was writing my undergrad thesis about journalism vs. blogs and during my research I read a book called Salam Pax: The Baghdad Blog. This book was published in 2003, based on the blog “Where is Raed?” I simply loved reading this book. I felt I shared the author`s problems as well.

During the beginning of the war in Iraq, I was doing another assignment about the war — I had to collect all the news about Iraq that I could find and write a report. However, reading all the news about the war was not exiting as reading the book. I was impressed with all the details in the blog and how I connected with the blogger`s words. I finished the book in one day, it was impossible to stop. I could not wait to see what was coming next. Once I finished the book I looked through my Iraq war articles and I could not connect to the articles the way I connected with the book. The articles seemed so superficial. Many times when I`m reading the news I don`t appreciate it; I feel that something is missing. And I don`t think I`m the only one who feels this way.

I strongly think that bloggers are sharing the same space with journalists. Many people now are turning their attention to the voices of bloggers instead of more conventional journalist. That is happening because in their own area of interest, the bloggers often know as much as if not more than the journalists. They also write as well, in many cases, but are more personal. Many times they have better access to information than the journalists. Better yet, they let readers participate in a faster way by posting comments on their blogs.

Of course you cannot just trust on the first blog you find. It`s important to dig and select from all the ones out there.

Here are two blogs about Iraq: Where is Raed? and Baghda Burning.

Weekly Blog #9: Global Voices

This week I enjoyed doing the assignment from my Social Media class. The objective was to look at Global Voices Online, pick a country that begins with the same letter as my name and see what I could find about it.

The countries I chose were Angola and Afghanistan. The reason I chose those two countries was because in Angola they speak Portuguese, my native language. And Afghanistan because of my name, Amina, which is a common name in the Middle East and Muslim countries.

First, I looked at blogs related to Angola. I found this neat blog called “Africa: Notes from the field”, written by US aid workers. They don`t write exclusively about Angola a, but about Sub-Saharan Africa. The blog is related to the challenges they face when trying to improve lives in Africa. The way the blog is written captures the attention of the reader because of the details and the personal insights.  For instance:

When reading about Afghanistan the topics I found were related to children, education, health, war and conflict, youth, etc. It was sad reading some of the posts related to Afghanistan. The blog “Afghanistan: Youth Find Outlets Amid Ongoing Violence” was one of them.

When I finished reading this post I thought about a post I wrote “Eyes Closed” and I felt that sometimes I also close my eyes because the world shows many sad facts that sometimes you would rather not know.

Weekly Blog #8: Wikipedia (again)

Last a week I wrote on my blog about the accuracy of Wikipedia and how I think that Wikipedia is a useful source. Anyway, during my social media class last Wednesday, my professors were talking about Wikipedia and at the end of the discussion I was happy to discover that my way of seeing Wikipedia was right. We can trust in Wikipedia articles.

Most of the edits and additions of articles made in Wikipedia are written by people who care about the subject they are writing about. It is important to remember that people don`t get paid to add information to Wikipedia. So, if they are spending their time to contribute to an article, it means that the information in Wikipedia is reliable. Why would you spend your time writing about something that it is not true?  It doesn`t concern me to use Wikipedia as a source.

Finding something on Wikipedia is fast, and many times it gives you more information than you are looking for. For example, go to the Wikipedia  page an lokk for the topic “September 11 attacks.” You will see how detailed the article is and all the information available. If you look on the history tab you will learn all the times that this article was edited.  People who took their time to contribute care about the issue and would not write lies. So why not trust in Wikipedia?