Flashmag Digizine Edition Issue 106 June 2020 - Page 16

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Flashmag June 2020 www.flashmag.net

Governments are also moving the war on drugs into cyberspace. The United States' strategy against transnational organized crime includes the use of social media as a source of information. Also, many efforts have been made to identify ways to leverage human intelligence and big data to identify networks and predict events.

In 2011, representatives of Anonymous in Mexico, the global cyber activism network, allegedly threatened members of the Los Zetas drug cartel with information about public servants and journalists working for them unless they release one of their pirates. This story shows how criminals are also vulnerable to cyberattacks and serves as proof that the Internet is a battleground where the rules of the game are being written. Pictures speak louder than words.

The digital revolution is a reality which risks to expend deeper with the Covid 19 crisis. When the use of new technologies by governments to monitor and suppress citizens freedom is no longer to be demonstrated, the most staggering is that it is not only Western governments that spy on citizens but also criminal organizations for whom monitoring has become a standard practice.

The involvement of online drug trafficking organizations might seem strange, if not counter-intuitive. After all, organized crime traditionally thrives in the shadows, far from the public eye. Historically, criminal groups have invested to minimize their public profile, not to increase it. The rules of the game seem to have changed. Organizations as diverse as ISIS and the Zeta cartel use cyberspace to form opinion and build respect, fear and terror. The Mexican cartel of Sinaloa, one of the most powerful criminal groups in Mexico, has a Twitter account with more than 34,000 followers.

El Chapo’s twitter account had almost 400,000 followers before his arrest . In El Salvador the gang Mara Salvatrucha 13, or MS-13, has more than 40,000 likes on Facebook and communicates with members across the Americas.

In Latin America, cyberspace is hijacked by cartels, gangs and other organized crime syndicates. They use it to threaten rivals, sell products, send instructions, and recruit new members. None of this is particularly new. As early as 2005, the police began to detect the online sharing of so-called narcomensajes. These were generally short texts left on the bodies of the victims explaining the reasons for their murder, such as: "This is what happens when you work with this or that rival cartel."

Unsurprisingly, the spread of text messages was accompanied by an explosion of what are often called narco videos. Some of these short clips are snuff movies. Others are essentially propaganda. Online reviews of some of them show that they vary in content and style with some featuring torture and execution, the oratories of the cartel leaders and even the occasional goodwill gesture.

Cyberspace allows criminals to increase their power, prestige and profits. They take violence in the virtual realm, targeting bloggers, the wealthy and competitors. Given the volume of people on Facebook in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador or Mexico, it is now possible to extort a large number of people with a single click.

The explosion in online activities of cartels and gangs not only leads to more murders, it also undermines fundamental freedoms, including the independence of the press. They generate a chilling or self-censoring effect on the news media across Mexico as well as the northern triangle countries of Central America and parts of South America. More than 32 journalists have been murdered in Mexico over the past decade, and citizen journalists have also been killed publicly.

Despite this bloody repression, citizens are fighting back, online and offline. Digital activists are self-organizing in virtual communities and turning to the web as a source of reliable information. They use their networks to organize and disseminate information in order to protect themselves.

Likewise, vigilante groups are rising up against cartels and their associates. Militia organizations like Valor por Michoacán have targeted the Templar cartel. Valor had more than 184,000 Facebook subscribers before being taken offline (although it maintains an active Twitter account).

The digital activity of the cyber sphere offers an invaluable mine to the judicial authority to track down crimes, by identifying, collecting, and classifying information to constitute evidence, or to open reliable leads in investigations. This information gathering can be used to identify, predict and even prevent crime, by targeting weak signals that can turn into corroborated alerts related to the presence or emergence of organized crime activities, including gang related activities, the trade and use of illegal drugs, gun crime, human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Hubert Marlin

Journalist

Sources: Weforum.org The rising threat of organized crime on social media - 2015

Springer link: Organized crime and social media - 2018