Mexico City police have failed to keep the capital’s unruly residents from invading streets and sidewalks with their illegally parked cars, security details, and trash. So officials are resorting to the shaming power of social media.
Authorities in Miguel Hidalgo, one of the city’s 16 “delegations” (administrative districts), are confronting transgressors and broadcasting the interactions live on Periscope. They tag the videos with #VecinoGandalla, using a Mexican term to describe someone who takes advantage of others.
The goal, delegation officials say, is to hold violators accountable while being transparent about how public servants go about their work. Infractions are too often dismissed through a bribe or political favors. That’s harder to do on camera, they say.
Still, the technique strikes some as too transparent. The city’s human-rights commission said Tuesday (Feb. 23) it is investigating three complaints (link in Spanish) about the use of Periscope by Miguel Hidalgo officials, and asked authorities to stop publishing the likenesses and personal data of alleged lawbreakers. Exhibiting them exposes them to “unnecessary violence,” damaging their human rights, the agency said in a press release.
The next day the head of Miguel Hidalgo, Xóchitl Gálvez, responded—via a Periscope press conference, naturally—that her delegation’s social-media activities are fully protected by freedom of speech laws. The intention isn’t to humiliate anyone, she said, but to defend the human rights of the majority of rule-followers who suffer from the uncivil behavior of a few.
“We didn’t exhibit anyone,” she said. The transgressors “exhibited themselves on their own,” she added.
Her novel approach is tapping into pent-up frustration over the mirrey (“my king”) culture that lets rich or powerful people skirt the law and bully their way out of consequences. (Miguel Hidalgo includes some of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods.) The sting operations have developed a sizable group of followers who tune in on Periscope in real time. Many of the videos, which are later posted on YouTube, rack up tens of thousands of views apiece.
But things can turn nasty. The watchers post comments both supporting the officials (“Well done!”) and insulting their targets (“filthy bitch!”). Some of the targets also get combative. In one transmission, Arne aus den Ruthen, the official who records the encounters—and who has more than 43,000 Periscope followers—quarrels with a woman who refuses to pick up a trash bag she apparently ditched in a clandestine dump. At one point, she threatens to kick him in his private parts. She was promptly dubbed #LadyBasura (“Lady Trash”) in social media.
Another alleged lawbreaker, a wealthy media mogul whose bodyguards parked several of his vehicles on the sidewalk, became #LordMeLaPelas (“Lord Jerkmeoff”) after the obscenities he yelled at aus den Ruthen. A few days later, several people from the same vehicles assaulted aus den Ruthen and stole his phone in the middle of a Periscope broadcast. “Turn off that phone,” somebody tells them as they comment on the beating. “Everything can be heard on air.”
After the attack, aus den Ruthen started recording with a GoPro camera hung on his shoulder as well as a phone. “That makes it harder for the bodyguards to take it off me,” he told Reforma (Spanish, paywall).
This post originally appeared on Quartz, and Atlantic partner site.