Elon Musk’s reduced Twitter safety oversight has allowed Mexican cartel members to flaunt their lifestyles online, post violent content and recruit new members, according to a new study.
Several previously banned accounts of known cartel members are again open and active on Musk’s Twitter, according to a report published last week by the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO).
Online, cartel members will often flaunt their crimes, at times boasting publicly that they’re wanted by the FBI while glamorizing their “gangster lifestyle,” according to the report.
Additionally, high-profile cartel members use the platform to recruit new members and post violent videos, said retired ICE Special Agent Victor Avila. Some accounts are used to send threats to government officials, civilians and rival gang members.
“They’re terrorizing the rest of the people that are watching these videos — the citizens, the government of Mexico, the U.S., whoever — intimidating them by saying, ‘This is what we’re capable of doing to another human being,'” Avila said.
Reverence for the cartel life can be a generational pull, and social media only adds to their celebrity status, Avila said.
“It’s not everyone, but it’s a vast majority that all they see is the cartel lifestyle,” he said. “I’m talking about the money, the trucks, the girls, the parties and drugs, and everything else that comes with it… once you start, they see even higher-ups… want to be better than them.”
Twitter has a “Violent and Hateful Entities” policy in place, barring violent organizations from promoting their illegal activity. The ACCO, however, determined that policy isn’t universally enforced.
“Cartel activity on Twitter is hiding in plain sight,” the report stated. “Narco accounts are mostly open to the public and not difficult to find. Conducting a quick search on key cartel names produces dozens of results.”
Twitter’s “already scant efforts” to remove violating content and block Mexican cartel members’ accounts were made worse when the social media’s safety team was dismantled, according to the report.
Cartels’ online presence goes beyond Twitter.
NewsNation recently reported that cartels have been using other social media platforms like Snapchat and TikTok to promote their lifestyle. Some criminal organizations use other platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to recruit people for human smuggling and other illicit work.
Other criminal groups throughout Latin America have also started to copy the cartels’ use of social media for their own benefit, according to the report.
As a result, tech companies often find themselves in a game of Whack-a-Mole trying to close down the accounts — as Twitter used to do.
A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has said the company works with law enforcement and removes content “seeking cross-border smuggling services.” They also offer information about the risks of engaging with smugglers.
Regarding Twitter, the ACCO called on Musk to suspend the openly accessible public accounts of apparent cartel members.
“Violent criminal gangs terrorizing communities across Mexico and beyond should not be enabled to broadcast their violence and issue threats against others using Twitter and other social media platforms,” the report stated.
NewsNation’s attempts to reach Twitter were unsuccessful.
On Capitol Hill, independent Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema re-introduced a bill earlier this year that would crack down on the criminal organizations’ use of social media.
The Combating Cartels on Social Media Act, would not only require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to analyze cartels’ social media use but it would also create a pathway for technology companies to report to the government cartel recruitment efforts.
Sinema was not immediately available to comment further.