2012-05-20

Biased media & social networks in Mexico

The presidential elections in Mexico next July 1st are heating up the political landscape.

It has always been a tradition that most media support some candidate, in this case Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) from PRI, who is ahead in their questionable polls. However, the information spreading on social networks is something they still cannot control.

On Friday, May 11th, EPN went to the Universidad Iberoamericana, one of the most recognized private universities in the country, where the students demonstrated their rejection towards him. Of course, none of this was seen in most media, one newspaper even Photoshopping their frontpage picture:

However, with half the students filming every moment with their smartphones, the real deal spread like wildfire on social networks and youtube. One of the claims to EPN was a police operation in the town of Atenco in the outskirts of Mexico City, while EPN was governor of the State of Mexico. State and federal police arrested dozens of people, raped about fifty women, and even killed some of the citizens. Even when EPN justified the spilled blood, there was no legal consequence.  [The reason that triggered the Atenco conflict was the plan to build a new airport for Mexico City, paying landowners about $500 USD per acre. The people refused, they were repressed, and even so they kept their lands.]

Yesterday there were "Anti-EPN" demonstrations in several cities, with about 46,000 in Mexico City. In some places people were beaten by EPN followers. Today there were demonstrations in support of Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in several cities all over the world (London, Washington, Paris, Dubai, Oslo, Brussels, Istambul, etc.) and all over the country. We will see how the media cover these. For yesterday's demonstration, one major newspaper suggested that it was organized by Josefina Vasquez Mota (JVM) supporters, a declaration which has been ridiculized in twitter.

It is clear that Internet and social networks are making it more difficult for the government and the media to manipulate the citizens. However, in Mexico only about one third of people have Internet access, and a large percentage of those are under voting age. Social networks are having an impact which makes the situation different from the last election six years ago. The question is whether this impact will be large enough to spread the news beyond Internet users, in the rural areas, where people on average have less education and are manipulated more easily. I wonder how can we learn from the Arab Spring.

2012-05-12

Elections: Mexico 2012

I've been meaning to start posting about the upcoming presidential elections to be held in Mexico on July 1st. The current government of Felipe Caledrón (who began his presidency in 2006 amidst proofs of fraud) has been characterized by a stagnation of the economy and a war declared against (most of) the drug cartels, leading to at least 60,000 people killed so far. Only in Ciudad Juárez, we had ten times the murder rate than in Baghdad during the recent U.S. occupation. Last year, a complaint was filed at the International Court in The Hague against Felipe Calderón and others, accusing them of crimes against humanity.

The perspective is not positive for Calderón, since he cannot go abroad like other ex-presidents, and most probably his party (PAN) will lose the presidency, given the failures of the two previous presidents: Calderón and Vicente Fox (2000-2006).

The candidates:

  • Josefina Vázquez Mota "JVM" (PAN), former minister of education and leader of her party's group in the lower congress.
  • Enrique Peña Nieto "EPN" (PRI, PVEM), former governor of the State of Mexico (2005-2011), and former administrator for his predecessor and uncle Arturo Montiel, who was accused of corruption and illegal enrichment during his term as governor, during which Peña was managing the finances of the state. His party PRI was in power for more than 70 years until 2000. He is also supported by the Green party (PVEM), which is right wing and their main political campaign is about legalizing death penalty and life sentences (senseless in a country where less than 10% of murders are ever punished). 
  • Andres Manuel López Obrador "AMLO" (PRD, PT, MC), former mayor of Mexico City (2000-2005) and alleged winner of the 2006 presidential elections.
  • Gabriel Quadri de la Torre "GQT" (PANAL). Ecologist by profession, he is supported by the party of the leader of the teacher's union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who was a key player in the 2006 fraud, and has also been accused of corruption and suspected murder.
Polls have been suspiciously manipulated, giving differences of 10%-20% per poll, positioning EPN in first place (39-65%), JVM or AMLO in 2nd (10-33%), and Quadri last (0.5-9%). With such dramatic variances we cannot believe none. In any case, there has been a massive support by the media and the federal electoral institute of EPN, and even so, his popularity has been decreasing constantly in recent months.

Last sunday we had the first presidential debate, better reviewed in The Colbert Report.

Will keep on posting as news unfold, one key difference between this election and previous ones are the massive spread of news by social networks. We get to know things we usually wouldn't get to know via established media, and you will see Twitter treding topics related to Mexico in the coming weeks. 

2012-05-10

New draft: Complexity and Information: Measuring Emergence, Self-organization, and Homeostasis at Multiple Scales

Concepts used in the scientific study of complex systems have become so widespread that their use and abuse has led to ambiguity and confusion in their meaning. In this paper we use information theory to provide abstract and concise measures of complexity, emergence, self-organization, and homeostasis. The purpose is to clarify the meaning of these concepts with the aid of the proposed formal measures. In a simplified version of the measures (focussing on the information produced by a system), emergence becomes the opposite of self-organization, while complexity represents their balance. We use computational experiments on random Boolean networks and elementary cellular automata to illustrate our measures at multiple scales.

Gershenson, C. & N. Fernández (2012). Complexity and Information: Measuring Emergence, Self-organization, and Homeostasis at Multiple Scales. C3 Report 2012.03. http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.2026