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Guns, Drugs and Viral Content: Welcome to Cartel TikTok

  • November 29, 2020

“Did the cartels just roll out their TikTok marketing strategy?” asked one flummoxed user in a video viewed some 490,000 times. “Is the coronavirus affecting y’all’s sales?”

Asked about their policy regarding the videos, a TikTok spokeswoman said that the company was “committed to working with law enforcement to combat organized criminal activity,” and that it removed “content and accounts that promote illegal activity.” Examples of cartel videos that were sent to TikTok for comment were soon removed from the platform.

While cartel content might be new for most teen TikTokers, according to Ioan Grillo, author of “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” online portrayals of narco culture go back more than a decade, when Mexico began ramping up its bloody war against the cartels.

At first, the videos were crude and violent — images of beheadings and torture that were posted on YouTube, designed to strike fear in rival gangs and show government forces the ruthlessness they were up against.

But as social platforms evolved and cartels became more digitally savvy, the content became more sophisticated.

In July, a video that circulated widely on social media showed members of the brutal Jalisco New Generation Cartel in fatigues, holding high-caliber weapons and cheering their leader next to dozens of armored cars branded with the cartel’s Spanish initials, C.J.N.G.

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