Mexican president slams YouTube for taking down his video that shared a journalist's phone number

The row started when López Obrador took offence at a New York Times story about a US inquiry into claims that people close to him took money from drug traffickers shortly before his 2018 election and again after he was president. — Reuters

MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s president again lashed out at social media platform YouTube on Monday for taking down part of his daily news briefing where he revealed a reporter’s phone number.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the platform in Mexico "has been taken over by conservatives,” accused it of censorship and claimed YouTube "is in full decline.”

It marked the latest chapter in the Mexican president’s love-hate relationship with social media. López Obrador's YouTube channel has 4.2 million subscribers, and the president gives preference to social media blogs and news sites at his briefings, often answering questions only from them.

Press freedom groups said the president’s decision to make public the phone number of a New York Times reporter Feb 22 was an attempt to punish critical reporting, and exposed the reporter to potential danger.

The row started when López Obrador took offence at a New York Times story about a US inquiry into claims that people close to him took money from drug traffickers shortly before his 2018 election and again after he was president.

As is common practice, the Times reporter had sent a letter to López Obrador’s spokesman asking for the president’s comment on the story before it was published, and included her telephone number as a means of contacting her.

At his daily press briefing that day, the president displayed the letter on a large screen and read it aloud, including her phone number.

While Mexican law prohibits officials from revealing personal information about people, López Obrador said "the political and moral authority of the president of Mexico is above that law.”

YouTube said in a statement that "our harassment policies strictly prohibit content that reveals someone’s personally identifiable information, including their phone number. Upon review, we have removed and issued a strike to the channels containing the video that violate this policy."

In a statement posted, not unsurprisingly, on YouTube, the president wrote Sunday that "this is an arrogant and authoritarian attitude. They are in full decline.”

At the beginning of his administration, López Obrador frequently praised the "blessed social media" as an outlet to get around the supposed domination of conservative points of view in newspapers and radio stations.

But López Obrador has since alleged conspiracies against him involving bots and organised social media campaigns.

López Obrador engaged in similar accusations against X, formerly known as Twitter, in 2021. The Mexican leader had a warm relationship with former US President Donald Trump and protested Twitter’s decision to suspend Trump’s account.

At the time, López Obrador accused one of Twitter's representatives in Mexico of having previously worked for politicians of the conservative opposition National Action Party.

The president also frequently criticises environmentalists, non-governmental organisations and regulatory agencies.

The doxxing of the reporter last week did have an unintended effect: After López Obrador defended his move and said the reporter should just change her phone number, it sparked leaks of mobile phone numbers of the two main presidential candidates and several top politicians.

Xóchitl Gálvez, the opposition candidate in the June 2 presidential election, said her phone number had been made public and that she had received about 18,000 messages since last week, including "some strong threats.”

But she decided to keep the line open, and agreed with YouTube's position.

"What the president has to recognise is that he violated privacy laws, and on social media, the law is respected,” Gálvez said.

The president appeared unapologetic Monday, casting it as a freedom of expression issue, saying that "we have said it before, liberty is sublime.”

He made it clear he wouldn't close his social media accounts in retaliation, saying that "you don't leave the parade (until) you get kicked out.” – AP

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