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Crowdsourcing the Fight Against Drug Violence, Corruption in Mexico
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Crowdsourcing the Fight Against Drug Violence, Corruption in Mexico

Corruption is a big problem across much of the world, stunting economic growth and perpetuating a culture of cronyism. While much lip service has been paid to ending the unhealthy practice, actually weeding out the fraudsters is difficult.

Now, armed with new tools that allow a greater say in the matter, crowds are taking a bottom-up approach to solving the problem. One such initiative in Mexico, an app called Retio, attracts over 100,000 visitors per month, allowing them to map instances of not only low-level corruption, but also gang violence, roadblocks, police harassment, petty crime, and more.

Retio, created by friends Mario Romero Zavala and Jose Antonio Bolio, started out three years ago as a way for Mexicans to report locations of police checkpoints, during which crooked officers sometimes harassed the passers-through. Users would tweet at Retio’s Twitter handle, alerting others of potential trouble in the area; Retio would then check for spam, cut out extraneous information, and retweet the message.

Since then, the service has expanded throughout Mexico, becoming more localized – there’s now a Twitter handle for each of the country’s 32 districts, as well as individual handles for some of the largest cities. An iPhone app came out back in February, making it easier to report trouble on the go. 

Over time, it was Retio’s users themselves who expanded the app’s scope to also include documentation of corruption and instances of gang violence, as well as more everyday problems like reporting broken traffic lights or potholes.

While most similar crowdsourced initiatives make the submitters anonymous, Retio’s creators decided not to make such promises to their users. Zavala and Bolio aren’t really worried about attracting the cartels’ ire as the incidents of violence users report are public, anyway; they did say, however, that some government officials have spoken out against the app. More virtuous cops, on the other hand, have used the app to better respond to reports.

In the future, Zavala and Bolio wish to expand internationally. It's an ambitious goal given the rise in popularity among similar tools in other countries.

Recently, for example, we wrote about Bribr, a Russian crowdmapping initiative that aims to stem corruption in the country. Thus far, the app’s recorded 8,500,000 rubles (around $280,000) in bribes given or taken – likely a tiny fraction of the total amount. Other crowdmapping sites target social ills, like the Egyptian platform Harassmap, which lets citizens report instances of sexual abuse targeting women.

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