How Drug Cartels Continue to Take Their War Online

screenshot: facebook.com/caballeros-templarios

We came across a Vice story called “Mexican Cartels Love Social Media.”

It talks about how Mexican drug cartels are increasingly using sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, for a variety of purposes.

Antoine Nouvet, a Canadian researcher who’s been monitoring cartels’ activity online, tells Vice that narcos are using social media to conduct a series of “public relations initiatives” that range from changing their ‘bad guy’ image to intimidating their enemies.

“They have basically turned themselves into their own media company,” Nouvet said.

But do cartels really have an impact on social media?

Their Facebook pages provide an interesting peek into the cartel mindset, but they’re not really too popular, and they’re often shut down by moderators.


A Facebook image of an alleged Knights Templar cartel member posing with his gun.

This Faceboook page for the powerful Knights Templar cartel, for example, only had 779 followers at the time we published this story.

By contrast, speeches of cartel leaders published on YouTube get thousands of views online. That’s partly because these guys don’t speak to regular media outlets, so YouTube is the only way for people to learn about how they think.

But while these videos may help to thrust some cartel leaders in the media spotlight, there is no evidence that they help these organizations to achieve their goals.

Where cartels do seem to be having a big impact is in blocking sites that tarnish their image, or serve the interests of their opposition.

Earlier this year, for example, cartels managed to disrupt El Blog del Narco, a site that reports on cartel criminal activities. One of the two bloggers behind the site went missing, and the other was forced to flee from Mexico to Spain, where it’s harder for her to publish news.

With a series of online threats, cartels also managed to force the Valor for Tamaulipas Facebook page to shut down for some days in April.

This page was crowdsourcing information about acts of violence in northeastern Tamaulipas state in an effort to keep locals safe. But its reports also harmed the reputation and operations of the influential Gulf Cartel, and also harmed local officials, who tend to downplay violence in the area.

As Vice points out, Mexican cartels now include technical experts in their ranks, who can identify the real life location of social media users, through different means.

Some of these experts have been kidnapped and forced to work for the cartels against their will. You can read Vice’s story here.