The Truth Behind the Viral Videos of Mexican Women Doing Bumps of Cocaine
A private WhatsApp joke turned into a widely circulated clip that made international news—and the woman at the center of it says she lost her job as a result.
Betty. Photo courtesy of Betty
"That video was recorded well over a year ago," says Ber. We're sitting in her living room in São Paulo, where she's invited me hoping I can help her disprove the "little pass challenge" story that made the rounds a few weeks ago. "It was a bad joke in a WhatsApp chat that got taken completely out of context."
On September 19, an article titled "'The Cocaine Challenge': The latest trend among rich Mexican girls" appeared on the Mexican news agency SDP Noticias' website. According to SDP, "rich Mexican girls" had taken neknomination–esque videos to a new level—clips of young women snorting a line of cocaine and then challenging their friends to do the same were going viral.
"On the 17th of September, a friend told me he'd been sent a WhatsApp video of me doing coke by a random acquaintance—a man from Ecuador who lives in Miami," Ber continued. "I didn't think too much of it. I assumed it would just stay between friends of friends. But then the next day, another friend called to say his friend had also been sent the video on WhatsApp."
Ber, who appears in the most popular of the three videos that went viral, says hers was recorded in October 2014. "We didn't come up with the 'challenge,' we just saw a video of a man doing the so-called 'little pass challenge' and thought it was funny and stupid. So we did the same as a joke in our WhatsApp group of about 15 close friends."
The video started gaining traction between September 17 and 18. "On the morning of the 19th, another friend told me she'd also been sent the video. A few hours later, my sister-in-law sent me a link to the SPD Noticias article about it. That's when I thought, I'm fucked."
In the article, Ber is described as "a blonde, good-looking young woman standing in front of a beautiful private landscape," wearing an "expensive black dress and jewelry."
"I bought that dress for less than $20. The jewels I was wearing were a pair of earrings that my mom gave me and my engagement ring. I was all dressed up because I was on my way to a friend's wedding in a hotel in Nayarit," Ber explains. It seems as if someone at SDP Noticias just assumed Ber was wealthy and that was enough for both local and international media to reuse the information without ever bothering to question it. Once the SDP article was published, the story spiraled out of control.
"Within hours the video was on several YouTube profiles and all kinds of websites around the world. They all claimed the 'little pass challenge' was a new trend among young rich people. I can see how it might have looked like that and how one could have reached that conclusion but I'd expect better from a journalist. That sort of reporting is extremely irresponsible. I lost my job because of all this, " Ber says.
There were three videos that circulated and linked to the story: Ber's video, a video of her friend Betty also taking part in the "challenge," and one that features a blonde girl—who Ber doesn't know—that doesn't even mention the challenge. All the girl says in that video is, "It ain't easy."
By Sunday, September 20, other media outlets had cited the original article, making the alleged "trend" even bigger. "By Monday, the media frenzy had calmed down and I thought it was over," Ber says. "Unfortunately, it exploded again on Tuesday. It was published in newspapers like Publímetro, Sin Embargo, Milenio, Excelsior, Remezcla, Fusion, El Universal, and even made it's way onto TV." (VICE circulated the story as well.)
On September 26, news anchor Danielle Dhiturbide presented a report on the trend on local TV station Televisa. The report featured an interview with someone who many assumed to be Betty—Ber's friend from the second video.
"Betty was never interviewed," says Ber. "They talked to some girl via Skype and blurred her face. The girl claimed she did it because of peer pressure and somehow everyone assumed Betty and that girl were the same person. But the girl in the video said she was 18. Betty and I are 30."
In a letter to VICE Mexico, Dhiturbide maintains Televisa never claimed the girl was Betty: "We looked up the trend in social media and found that the first post on the topic belonged to this Twitter user, so we got in touch with her. She is an 18-year-old student from Tabasco. She asked us to hide her identity on air. Obviously, we showed the viral videos too since they were the reason we did the report in the first place, but we never claimed the two were related," she writes.
They may have not explicitly made the connection, but in my opinion Televisa did not try hard to make a distinction. In the voiceover, Dithurbide is heard saying: "We searched posts related to the topic on websites like Twitter, Facebook, Vine, and Instagram, and this 18-year-old girl was the first to mention the coke line challenge."
For her part Betty says: "A friend called me telling me he had seen the video in the news. I was out of town and had just arrived home the same day the program was televised. I knew immediately that I was going to be caught in a scandal."
Meanwhile, Rafael Jiménez, who also appears in the news report as an "internet expert" took to Twitter to voice his anger: "I didn't ask for them to credit me as such, I just told them what I thought about the topic but they twisted the meaning of my answers." Jiménez, who has 20 years of experience in digital communication, said that the staff did explain to him what the interview would be about but the questions he was asked were generic.
"Dhiturbide wasn't even there. It was only her crew. I told them that I knew nothing about the topic but they only used the soundbites they needed," he's said. "It's one of those things that people blow out of proportion to make clickbait articles without any actual basis. It isn't proper journalism. If it weren't for the SDP article, the scandal would probably never have grown so big. The media simply repeated what they'd said without doing any research. I hate being part of such bullshit."
Ber admits: "I know I'm the one to blame and I never should have recorded that video. But the media could have simply said the videos were going viral and that's it. Why would they give false information, like my social class or my age? Why would a girl lie and pretend to be my friend? If people are allowed to go on important media outlets like Televisa and make up stories as stupid as this, then who are we supposed to believe?"
She also said that she hasn't been contacted by any media and only agreed to talk to me because her "reputation is going down the drain thanks to a moment of stupidity; all because of a joke between friends that got blown out of proportion."
Follow Alejandro Mendoza on Twitter.