Drug Cartels and Social Media
By Keely Byron, Thomson Reuters
Everyone is using social media, including non-law-abiding citizens of the world, and they’re not covering up their tracks. Through sites like Facebook and YouTube, lawbreakers ranging from underage drinkers to leaders of drug cartels invite authorities to monitor exactly what it is they’re doing.
This January, my old high school voted on a new drug and alcohol policy. The proposed policy pertained only to students participating in extracurricular activities, requiring them to immediately leave any site, on-campus or off, where drugs and/or alcohol are present. The proposed policy also specified that though pictures from Facebook and other social media sites could not be used as primary proof, they could be used as supplemental evidence in evaluating a violation.
Throughout the country, students are participating in underage drinking and drug use, as has undoubtedly been going on for decades. But in this day and age, with the assistance of social media, students are posting pictures and videos of themselves knowingly and willingly participating in illegal acts, and are now getting caught.
Why are students not only taking pictures of themselves breaking laws, but then posting the evidence on Facebook for others to bear witness? My guess is that, for one thing, the allure of fame within the high school community is strong. They know their peers are monitoring who threw the biggest, baddest parties, and who was in attendance. Also, these teens seem to be under the impression that disciplinary measures will not be taken against them. They have seen other students post similar pictures without consequence, and expect this trend to continue.
Now for a distant but related connection. Since the nineteenth century, Mexican drug lords have used narcocorridos, or drug-ballads, to publicize their bad-guy reputations. Accomplished members of Mexico’s organized crime community would, and continue to, hire musicians to compose songs detailing their achievements in what has become the narcotics industry, advertizing their ability to get away with breaking the law. Their intent is to immortalize themselves, to make everyone, including other members of the drug community, aware of their power, and to boost their reputation.
For example, Los Tigres del Norte, one of the most famous producers of narcorridos, released a song titled “Smuggling and Betrayal” in the mid-1970s. The lyrics detail the expedition of Camelia la Texana and Emilio Varela, a duo who successfully crossed the border with four tires full of “hierba mala,” the Mexican street name for marijuana. They pass effortlessly through immigration, flashing their documents and fluently responding to border patrol’s questions. Though it is unclear whether or not the song’s protagonists actually existed (or if these were their real names), the ballad specifies the route and process used to smuggle marijuana across the border.
The information given in “Smuggling and Betrayal” has likely become obsolete, outdated by over 30 years. However, modern narcocorridos are today released regularly on public online outlets such as YouTube and Facebook. With a polka-esque rhythm (nothing remotely similar to America’s counterpart, gangster rap) and traditional Mexican folk instruments, it is easy for an untrained ear to overlook the message conveyed in the lyrics and mistake it for mariachi.
In these instances, both teens and narcotics-movers are blatantly ignoring the law, and then, with the assistance of social media, telling everyone about it. In their past experiences, publicizing an illegal act is a win-win situation: status goes up, and (usually) there is no penalty. For most cartel leaders, and many high-schoolers, this continues to be the case, and they continue breaking the law without consequence.
Still, if drug lords and teens are willing to so conspicuously post evidence of their offenses, maybe it’s time to start paying attention.
My apologies, by the way, for comparing high school students to drug lords, and, in some respects, for comparing drug lords to high school students.