MEXICO CITY -- Those who resent the powerful ruling class of this country have coined colorful slang phrases for the rich and entitled. The sons of the elite are called “juniors,” or worse “papaloys,” a Spanish language contraction of the words “papa” and “lords.”
Upper-class young women are known as “lobukis” or simply “ladies.”
For decades, or even longer, the sons and daughters of the elite did what they pleased, and if they rolled over little people, hardly anyone was the wiser.
But social networks have raised the penalty bar significantly for abusive behavior. When it occurs, bystanders are likely to snap photos with their cellphones, take video, post to Twitter and Facebook and rain a torrent of ridicule on the miscreants.
Recent days have brought several examples, and social scientists say the power of social networks to voice discontent is running headlong into traditional Mexican behavior in which the phrase, “Don’t you know who I am?” carries the threat of unassailable power.
Shortly after dawn Thursday, two women in a sporty blue convertible Porsche Boxster hit a pickup truck in the fashionable Roma district of the capital, pushing the pickup into a 50-year-old woman and injuring her. Police arrived at the scene as the two women tried to flee.
The well-dressed ladies, who had apparently spent the night out partying, yelled abusively at the police, saying they were friends with commanders known by the nicknames “Apolo 3” and “Alfa Apolo 3.” The officers took the women into the precinct anyway.
Social networks buzzed with the story and the incident picked up the hashtag #ladiesdelaroma (or Ladies of Roma) on Twitter.
“People learn of these events almost as soon as they happen, and they quickly express their indignation,” said Maria Elena Meneses, a professor of journalism and digital culture at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.
The comments on social networks were filled with irony or ridicule, poking fun at those who live in wealthier districts like Las Lomas, frequent trendy nightclubs or hold jobs in boutique firms along Paseo de la Reforma, the leafy boulevard through the capital’s heart.
Some see a salutary effect of the spotlight put on the “juniors” and “ladies” by the social networks, even as they condemn a culture in which the family members of high-ranking officials assume they enjoy freedoms unconstrained by law.
“If we look at the behavior of the ‘juniors,’ behind them almost always are parents who permit them to do anything they please and make clear that there are no consequences,” Manuel J. Clouthier, a former congressman, wrote Friday in El Universal.
What’s worse, Clouthier wrote, is that the families of high-ranking officials often believe that the sons and daughters can use the power of the patriarch to avenge slights, no matter how rude or disrespectful of others, and that government employees are at their personal service.
By coincidence, the accident of the Ladies of Roma occurred on the same day as the resolution of another case involving the daughter of a former attorney general who now heads the consumer watchdog agency, known by the acronym Profeco.
The daughter, Andrea Benitez, went for lunch at a trendy restaurant on April 26 but was denied her table of choice because some 15 other diners were ahead of her on a wait list. She threw what can only be described as a tantrum, taking to Twitter to decry “dreadful service” and threatening to shut the restaurant down.
Several hours later, inspectors from her father’s agency arrived and put seals on the doors of the restaurant, declaring irregularities in its reservation system among other deficiencies.
Usually, inspectors take months to respond to complaints from citizens.
Other diners captured the scene and posted to social media, sparking an uproar that led the father, Humberto Benitez Trevino, to apologize for his daughter’s behavior. The case was dubbed Lady Profeco.
On Thursday, Benitez announced that four inspectors for his agency had been suspended for heeding his daughter’s orders but that he himself had not considered resigning, “not even for a moment.”
“The general perception is that they (the inspectors) are scapegoats,” columnist Francisco Garfias wrote in El Excelsior. “One could synthesize the tone of the tweets as: Like usual, the weakest pay the piper.”
Meneses said the father’s remarks underlined the struggle between an old social order, which came strongly to the fore during the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s seven decades in power in the last century and which some fear is returning today, and the desire of some Mexicans for a more equitable social order.
“It’s a real power struggle between people on the social networks and authorities who want to emphasize that they are in charge and who refuse to be held accountable,” she said.
“Social networks,” she added, “have become a constant irritation for people in power.”