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Tweeting hate across the border

Updated: March 17, 2012 10:18AM

Twitter deservedly gained a worldwide reputation as an effective communication tool during the social upheaval that transformed the Arab world. The social media giant has also proved to be a formidable tool for organizing large and small demonstrations — from students in Chile seeking education reforms to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Previously, I have written in this column about how the so called “Dreamers,” young students whose undocumented parents brought them to this country as kids and who for all practical purposes are American, used social media to gather support for the federal and the Illinois Dream Act. The “Dreamers” were fighting to stay in America while young people in Arab countries, using the same social media, were fighting dictators.

For my part, I’m a latecomer to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which I use primarily to stay in touch with an audience that otherwise would be difficult to reach on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, as happens with other tools of mass communication, Twitter also can be used to disseminate racism and intolerance. For the second time in a month, a war of words has exploded on Twitter between Mexicans and Americans, who have been throwing racial slurs and nasty stereotypes at each other for days.

Last week, the theme or “hashtag” #You’re Mexican became one of the most popular on Twitter in the U.S. and in Mexico. Twitter users were launching so many insults at each other that the exchange became a “trending topic” on Twitter in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, among other American cities, as well as in Mexico.

Here’s a typical exchange, at least of the sort that can be printed in a family newspaper:

Osama Bin Laden: “Mow my lawn if you’re Mexican.”

Captain Nemo: “You’re Mexican yes pinche gringo!! Y me gustan un chingo los frijoles, maldito traga hamburguesas. (You’re Mexican yes, damned gringo. And I like beans very much, damned hamburger eater.)”

Beavis And Butthead: “You’re Mexican If you live with 30 other people in one mobile home.”

A. Contreras: “You’re Mexican? Sure, I prefer to be Mexican than to invade countries to earn money.”

The thousands of messages contain any number of racial slurs and stereotypes to denigrate the other nationality.

The first time this happened, that I know of, was in January, when Twitter users on both sides of the border exchanged insults under the hashtag #MexicanPeopleBeDoingStuffLike. The vicious slinging lasted several days.

Mauricio Tenorio, a professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in the modern culture of Mexico and the U.S., finds it “deplorable.”

“The most ironic thing about the exchange is that Americans and Mexicans, of all colors and stripes, do not have two countries, two pasts, two presents and two futures separated,” he said.

I guess this kind of stupidity will always find a place, regardless of technology. But it reminds us that we still have a long way to a better understanding among peoples who share a border.

As the professor said, we will always be linked.

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