Just when we thought we’d seen it all, along come the Narco Tweets, and leave us speechless. A new study found that Twitter’s new lax security measures have allowed Mexican drug cartels to thrive on the platform.

Organized crime gang members use the platform to recruit new members. They also send warnings to rival gangs, post gory images and videos, and even “glorify” the narco lifestyle.

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A study published by the Alliance to Counter Crime Online (ACCO) on March 9 found that the reason behind this phenomenon appears to be Twitter’s new lax security measures since Elon Musk took the company’s reins.

The ACCO is a coalition of organizations investigating online crimes such as drug trafficking, child sex abuse, and romance scams.

“We call on Twitter to immediately block and remove violent and inciteful narco content,” Gretchen Peters, a co-founder of the ACCO, wrote in the report. The organization also demands that the company suspend identified Mexican narco accounts that spread it.

A network for violent crime

According to the study, high-profile members of Mexican cartels, many of whom have tens of thousands of followers, also increased their activity on Twitter.

Well-established accounts of Sinaloa Cartel members, some created between 2012 and 2015 and then banned, are once again active. Members of their criminal sub-cells, such as Los Chapitos, Los Gallitos, Los Antrax, and Gente Nueva, are also amassing followers.

Twitter has apparently allowed Mexican cartels to expand their public relations reach. They glorify the narco lifestyle, send threats, and recruit new members.

The reach of Elon Musk’s ‘Free Speech’

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter in 2022, many have warned about the risk of the platform becoming fertile ground for extremism.

Of course, concerns were directed at the re-introduction of the likes of Donald Trump and Kanye West to the social platform.

What few expected was that the technocrat’s “free speech” banner was, in fact, an invitation to organized crime.

“Like Trump, Musk has become the tribune of fascists and racists by way of adolescent contrarianism, an insatiable need to flaunt his control, and a radicalizing inability to cope with being told he’s wrong on the internet,” wrote Nesrine Malik on her column for The Guardian. “For him, ‘free speech’ seems merely a vehicle for his delusional plan to make Twitter into a fawning ‘digital town square’ that he presides over.”

That Town Square has apparently brought together members of the world’s most dangerous organizations.

“Social media is a tool that provides benefits to and strengthens drug cartels by enhancing organizational and operational capabilities,” report author Dr. Nilda Garcia, assistant professor in the political science department at Texas A&M International University, told BuzzFeed News. “These communication outlets provide major opportunities for drug cartels not only to engage in public relations strategies, gain legitimacy, incite fear, and recruit, but also facilitate the diversification of criminal activities that involve extortion, drug sales, and human smuggling online.”

All the violence in a feed

In addition to praising the lifestyle, sending threats, and recruiting members, Mexican drug cartels have gone to unimaginable extremes.

A video posted by the Jalisco Cartel shows decapitated heads of rival cartel members thrown into a bonfire.

Nemesio Oseguera, one of the world’s most wanted drug lords, leads the Jalisco Cartel.

In another tweet posted by a member of La Chapisa, a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel, a decapitated victim appears.

Hidden in plain sight

Twitter’s policy on Hateful Entities, last updated in January 2023, states that “there is no place on Twitter for violent organizations.”

However, according to the ACCO study, “a significant gap exists between the stated policy and Twitter’s capacity or willingness to enforce it.”

Narco accounts are mostly open to the public and are not difficult to find. Doing a quick search on key cartel names produces dozens of results.

Earlier this year, Twitter allowed members of the Taliban to purchase blue check marks for their accounts. Although the company removed the verification marks shortly thereafter, drug cartels could find a loophole in the platform and capitalize on it.

According to Dr. Nilda Garcia, unlike the Taliban, drug cartel members decided not to purchase the verification marks to “avoid attracting attention.”

“Using social media can be a double-edged sword for them,” she told Buzzfeed. “They have learned how not to be as vulnerable and not attract more attention from authorities.”

Garcia and her team looked for signs of association with other cartel accounts to determine whether the profiles were legitimate. They also examined the geographic location of the accounts.

Garcia estimates that on Twitter alone, the Sinaloa Cartel reaches more than 140 million people in nearly a dozen countries.

“They have a wide-ranging fan base,” she said.