Mexican Drug Cartels Now Menace Social Media
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
At the same time, though, narco traffickers themselves are recognizing the power of social media, as we hear now from NPR's John Burnett.
JOHN BURNETT: Last week, drug mobsters put users of social media in Mexico on notice in a most gruesome fashion. The mangled bodies of a young man and woman were hung from a highway bridge in Nuevo Laredo, along with a sign that read: This Is What Happens To People Who Post Funny Things On The Internet - Pay Attention.
BURNETT: Javier Garza is the editor of El Siglo de Torreon in neighboring Coahuila State, which is also aflame with cartel violence. He noted the news from Nuevo Laredo grimly.
JAVIER GARZA: It suggests that the blogosphere has been included in the media landscape that the cartels are looking at. Because up until now, it had only been traditional media - you know, print, TV and radio.
BURNETT: The narcos want it both ways. They want to censor what people say about them, yet they want a forum for their own propaganda. And Blog del Narco has become just that, according to Rosental Alves, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who follows new media in Latin America.
ROSENTAL ALVES: What they are doing is that they, in Blog del Narco, are amplifying the public relations efforts that the cartels had already started.
BURNETT: In the routine barbarity that defines the Mexican mafia wars, narcos use images of murder, torture, even beheadings to intimidate foes and brag on their exploits. Blog del Narco, like the popular Mexican tabloids, has learned that savagery sells. You can log on and see photos of severed heads and disfigured bodies next to ads for GM Truck Month, Geico Auto Insurance and Lysol Toilet Bowl Cleaner.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)
BURNETT: On another level, Blog del Narco and copycat websites have become required watching for intelligence gatherers who want to know what the cartels are up to. Grupo Savant is a Washington, D.C. area private security firm with knowledge of organized crime activities in Mexico. This spokesperson requested anonymity.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Some traffickers have been tortured on film and they recite a lot of useful information; information about command and control, information about sponsorship of killings. The list is endless.
BURNETT: But, increasingly, experience tells Mexicans to be cautious about the information they get on social networks.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
BURNETT: Again, Torreon editor Javier Garza.
GARZA: If you yell fire in a crowded theater, I don't think that your speech should be protected. If you tweet false information, you know, about violent episodes, I think first we have to discern your intent. Is it malicious intent or did you just re-tweet information that you saw elsewhere?
BURNETT: Initially, angry state prosecutors arrested the two Veracruz twitterers and charged them with terrorism and sabotage, offenses that carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison. Human rights and Internet freedom activists screamed foul and sympathizers posted a song on YouTube.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
WOMAN: (Singing in Foreign language)
BURNETT: John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.