Exasperated by the entitlement of the rich and well-connected, Mexicans are starting to take justice into their own hands — with their cellphones.
It’s a new digital form of vigilante justice, where people use their phones to record whoever is behaving like an ass in public, and then bring it before the court of public opinion by uploading it to social media.
In a country where many Mexicans feel they have no access to real justice, the cellphone vigilantism has become an important tool to fight back against entitlement, abuse and impunity among society’s untouchable elite.
And the Mexican internet is rewarding their efforts by making the videos and hashtags go viral.
There was the case of the prominent businessman who assaulted a valet parking attendant after his Porsche got a flat tire. The employee got his revenge by uploading the surveillance camera video.
And then there was the case of the woman, who happened to be the daughter of the head of Mexico’s consumer protection agency, threatening to shut down a restaurant because she couldn’t get a table. Several restaurant customers turned to their cellphones to snap pics of the evidence. The videos and photographs quickly spread throughout the internet, and were shared by thousands on Mexican social media.
The trend of social media shaming started around five years ago, with a video upload of a group of well-heeled women, including a former beauty queen, insulting a cop who stopped their car. The video went viral and made several headlines, prompting Mexico City authorities to fine the so-called “Ladies de Polanco,” a nickname created to mock the vulgar, “unladylike” behavior.
The success of that video encouraged others to share similar videos of misbehaving rich people. And there are plenty. Mexico has more than its fair share of folks afflicted with “Affluenza teen” syndrome, a mental disorder that leads to delusions of grandeur and makes wealthy people think they can get away with just about anything.
Here’s a notorious Mexican affluenza case of a drunk driver who screams that his daddy is the president:
The videos have spawned a hashtag culture that uses words like Lady, Lord and Gentleman, to mock those who behave like Mexican royalty, or like a bunch of villainous aristocrats from Downton Abbey.
Even city officials have tried to resort to social media justice, stirring controversy on issues of citizen privacy.
A Mexico City official was recently attacked when he tried to Periscope video of a prominent businessman whose bodyguards had parked vehicles on the sidewalk. The bodyguards put their boss on speakerphone to threaten and insult the city official, and then they punched him in the face.
“In Mexico City, people fear Periscope more than the police,” Xóchitl Gálvez, the delegate in charge of the district where the incident took place, told Spanish daily El Pais. Gálvez has both been applauded and criticized for encouraging the use of Periscope among city workers to record infractions.
Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights is currently looking into whether this use of social media by officials violates the privacy rights of citizens.
But the social media vigilante videos are unlikely to stop, because they’ve tapped into the people’s frustrations with two problems that have run amock in Mexico: classism and entitlement.