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Mexican Politicians "Cave" to Internet Activists, But Was It A Ruse?

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 2 2014

President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico share a toast (Wikipedia)

Last week activists in Mexico drew the world's attention to a bill proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto that would do away with net neutrality and user privacy measures, among other changes. The protest hashtag #EPNvsInternet (Enrique Peña Nieto vs the Internet) drew nearly a million tweets and became a global trending topic. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets to protest the bill on April 22 in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. The media reported that Mexico's governing party immediately backed away from the proposed legislation, with promises to change the problematic clauses before the vote, which has been postponed until June. However, activists behind #EPNvsInternet worry that the party will try to pass the bill with little to no changes during the Football World Cup, when the attention of their citizens is elsewhere.

Peña Nieto's proposed bill would authorize the state to block communications for national security reasons or public safety, increase state control over telecommunications and media outlets, and permit real-time surveillance of people's movements without a warrant.

“The only thing we can do is to show the world what's happening,” says Primavera Tellez-Giron, member of the Mexican Association of the Right to Information (AMEDI).

In a phone call with techPresident, Tellez-Giron explained that the President's bill threatens more than just Internet rights. It would also strip community radio stations—which often serve indigenous or very poor rural communities—of funding, forcing them to appeal to their listeners.

Tellez-Giron says another bill, proposed by right wing Senator Javier Lozano Alarcón (and the Senate President of the Comission of Communications and Transport), is even worse. It would prohibit community radio stations from using advertisements to raise money.

Lozano Alarcón is also the one who presented the revised version of the President's bill, but other members of Congress have said they were excluded from the discussion of revisions, and they have accused Lozano Alarcón of violating parliamentary procedure.

When presenting the revised bill, Lozano Alarcón only promised to address the Internet censorship issues that have been raised. Some critics are calling this apparent capitulation to #EPNvsInternet a clever ruse. Julio Hernándex López wrote in La Jornada (translation here by Sally Seward for the blog Mexico Voices):

Focusing the attention of the most critical and informed community on the topics that are most immediate to them, dealing with the Internet itself, they thought it would be possible to leave undisputed the deeper issues related to maintaining privileges and the expectations of growth and earnings for the television duopoly [Televisa and TV Azteca]. That way, members of the PAN and the PRI would calmly arrive to vote in Congress in favor of the rest of Peña Nieto's law, having taken out the controversial pieces planted there.

. . .This way, they eliminate the intentionally-inserted aberrations, and it seems as if the politicians "really do listen" to the people and are capable of "fixing" their mistakes. Certain "opponents" are then perceived as beneficiaries of those presumed changes. This is what is happening now with the PAN, which will trade its vote in favor of the Peña-Televisa law in exchange for, among other things, positioning itself as the party that stood "beside" Twitter users and their freedoms.

And judging from English-language media headlines (“Mexico Steps Back From Telecom, Internet Limits,” “Social Media Protests in Mexico Shape Telecom Bill”) the red herring worked on many.

“Tecnopolitica”

Alberto Escorcia, co-founder of the alternative media blog YoSoyRed and one of the activists behind #EPNvsInternet, explained in an email to techPresident that they used a technique called “tecnopolitica,” or technopolitics, which was developed in Spain during the 15M movement.

“This technique,” Escorcio wrote, “is about [using] Big Data to detect peaks along the time when the people [need] to protest.”

Data analyst Javier Toret explains technopolitics and the 15M at a round table:

A working hypothesis is that as the network movement grows, the interest and participation in “real” politics also grows. Technopolitics is neither slacktivism nor cyberactivism: the goal is real politics and “real life”. Technopolitics is a tactical and strategic use of digital tools and collective identities. The aim of technopolitics is to organize, communicate and act.

Technopolitics have a certain sense of forecasting: they anticipate what is going to happen, or what is about to happen, and help it in finally making it happen, catalysing the change. Technopolitics drive the flow of the collective action.

Unfortunately, all the Big Data analytics in the world won't do these hardworking activists any good if the bill passes while the eyes of world are trained on a football match.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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