Social Media Becomes Hotbed For Drug Cartels To Boast Of Violence

By McCarton Ackerman 04/03/14

Dubbed narcomedia, the trend of cartels using social media to display acts of violence has been growing more widespread.

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As Mexico becomes increasingly connected to the internet and social media, sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the go-to location for drug cartels to release images of dead bodies and other graphic material as a means of intimidation.

Known as narcomedia, the trend began in 2005 with a YouTube video showing the torture and murder of Mexican drug cartel hit men. But with one-third of the country's residents using a social media account, compared to just five percent of the country having internet access in 2000, it's becoming far more commonplace.

"Any industry is going to use whatever it can to get their message across," said John Gibler, author of To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War. “Publishers create blogs, they do book promotions, post clips to YouTube, hire people to staff social media accounts. Illicit industries are doing the same — using social media in their own ways, to spread fear and command respect and control."

The spread of narcomedia has been further complicated by blurred lines in the relationship between drug cartels and government agencies. “[People] tend to be shocked by the idea of corruption — that someone representing a government body might have been involved. I urge people to reconsider this idea that the cartels and the government are two distinct entities,” said Gibler. "it’s impossible for an organized crime organization — especially one that’s transnational — to function without employees inside the state at all levels."

In the spring of 2012, the rival Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels fought for press attention by trying to outdo each other with gruesome murders that were posted to YouTube. Forty-nine decapitated bodies were discovered alongside a highway in Nuevo Leon; a leader of the Zetas cartel, Daniel de Jesus Elizondo Ramirez, has since been taken into custody for the murders. Other recent incidents include two criminal groups and their allies depositing 14 headless bodies in front of city hall in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, and hanging nine people, four of them women, from a bridge in the same city.

“What was once viewed as extreme is now normal," said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonpartisan think tank. "So these gangs must find new extremes. And the only real limit is their imagination, and you do not want to know what is the limit of psychopaths.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.