** Originally published at World Now at the L.A. Times, the paper's new international news blog. My recent base at LAT.com, La Plaza, is hereby retired, but links remain live and available. Thanks for the follows and re-posts and continued tips and feedback.
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- A woman found decapitated in the border city of Nuevo Laredo is being mourned as an apparent member of a social networking site used by local residents to share information on drug cartel activity.
The victim was found early Saturday with a note nearby saying she was killed for posting messages online about violent or criminal incidents in Nuevo Laredo.
The Tamaulipas state attorney general's office identified the woman as Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, 39, and said she was an editor at the newspaper Primera Hora (links in Spanish). The Associated Press, however, quoting an employee of the newspaper, identified the victim as Marisol Macias Castaneda, and said she held an administrative and not an editorial post at Primera Hora.
A web search of the newspaper's website found no mention of the woman's death or the discovery of a decapitated female body on Saturday.
But on the website Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, a banner image appeared memorializing a member known as NenaDLaredo. "You'll always be present," the display says.
At Saturday's grisly scene, the message left with Macias's body makes reference to the site and NenaDLaredo in particular, saying: "Nuevo Laredo en Vivo and social networking sites, I'm the Nena de Laredo, and I'm here because of my reports, and yours."
The message was tagged with multiple Z's, indicating a link to the violent Zetas cartel.
A blogger and Twitter user known as @OVEMEX, who said he is based in northern Mexico and monitors social media, told The Times via email Sunday: "Apparently, from checking out the forum, which for the most part has been moved to private, it is her. Or at least she has not come back online to dismiss her own decapitation."
Social media sites have been essential outlets for Mexicans seeking to monitor or report on violent incidents and other activities linked to organized crime, as local news organizations frequently silence themselves under pressure from political or criminal forces. Primera Hora, for instance, is said to be a property of Nuevo Laredo's mayor, the daily Excelsior reported (link in Spanish).
The shift toward crowd-sourced drug-war reporting in Mexico has resulted in tension between social media users and local governments. The state of Veracruz attempted to try a man and woman for terrorism and sabotage for allegedly igniting a panic over attacks on schools in late August. The government later dropped the charges.
Earlier this month, two people were found mutilated and hanging from a Nuevo Laredo bridge alongside messages threatening social media users, but whether those victims were killed for posting messages on the Internet has not been corroborated by authorities or reliable news outlets.
** Image: Screen shot of messages posted on Nuevo Laredo en Vivo discussing the reported death of a contributor known as NenaDLaredo. Credit: via Twitter