Using Social Media to Call Out Abuses of Power

This is beyond outstanding:

Andrea Benítez simply did what many rich, connected Mexicans have always done: she used her influence to step on the lower born. Witnesses said that when she was not given the table she wanted on Friday at Maximo Bistrot, a popular Mexico City restaurant, she called in inspectors who worked for her father at the country’s main consumer protection agency to shut it down.

“Dreadful service,” she wrote on Twitter, before announcing she had arrived at the agency to complain. “They have no manners.”

What followed, however, caught much of Mexico by surprise. Instead of enjoying the perks of privilege, Ms. Benítez and her father have become the targets of a broad and swift social media campaign — with tens of thousands of Tweets condemning them — that led the president’s office on Monday to announce a formal investigation into allegations of abuse of power. […]

Twitter users immediately gave Ms. Benítez a hashtag: #LadyProfeco. Profeco is the abbreviated version of the office that her father directs, and “Lady” referred back to another recent incident labeled #LadiesDePolanco — when some drunken young women in the posh neighborhood of Polanco were caught on video berating police officers for being “salary men.”

As of Sunday evening, Twitter had logged around 42,000 messages referring to #LadyProfeco in every manner of vulgar insult.

Certainly, that is an amusing story. But it is also actually an important reminder of the ways in which social media can empower people. Certainly, we saw the utility of social media platforms like Twitter in the events of the “Arab Spring” in 2011. Yet the importance in providing people with a new voice and a new method to challenge the powerful is not limited to overthrowing governments. While the article suggests that an actual investigation into abuse of power is unlikely, that may be beside the point. The  fact is that one’s abusive flaunting of power and connections in public can lead to this kind of public embarrassment, social backlash, and governmental involvement in ways it did not want to be involved. The use of social media for public and widespread shaming for shameful arrogance and favoritism is a not-insignificant way in which people can cause real problems for governments, and that is not nothing.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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