Social Media and Criminal Organizations

Normally without the use of social media, cartel members stumble across that information by keeping an eye on their surroundings and watching out for flashy individuals. Now, the process is greatly streamlined by having all that information readily available on Facebook. Cartels have been at the cutting edge of this trend. In fact, as early as 2008, Joel Barrios Dueñas noted that instead of waiting for the right person to walk by, the cartel member could sit back, relax, and look through their Facebook Rolodex for the right fit.

At that point, the cartel member has the ability to establish a pattern of life, find known associates and images that can help the cartel select and ultimately find the victim, noted Orlando Romero Harrington and Andres Enrique Escoto Castro, in separate pieces on this issue, also back in 2008. Unfortunately, there are many cases that point to the drug cartels’ use of social media for target selection. The most recent and publicized case is the Zetas’ gruesome retaliation against two young men for denouncing their activities on their personal social media accounts, as noted by El Mundo in a 2011 article.

Cartels are also using social media to instill fear in others and deter journalists and private citizens from publishing negative information about the violence they commit. They are using geo-location technology to find computers that have been used to post dialogue that negatively affects their drug trafficking organizations and illicit businesses. For example, there is the documented case of a Mexican blogger who threatened to expose members of a cartel. The cartel responded that 10 people would be killed for every person whose details were leaked. The blogger backed down and chose to sit on the information he claimed to hold.

Cartels are also investing in IT training that would be used to silence Mexican bloggers, such as how to do IP trace routing. They are learning how to tag, track, locate and eliminate people that are blogging the cartel’s activities.

The use of the cloud to perpetrate the Mumbai attacks and the drug cartels’ use of social networking, IP trace routing and geo-tagging to identify victims in the process of target selection are just two examples of force multipliers on the modern battle field. These methods of operation are being used to identify private individuals, corporations, and government entities in ways that are very difficult to defend against. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult for users to implement countermeasures for something that they know little or nothing about, and it is unrealistic to expect people to stop using social media altogether.

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