In this episode of the Janes podcast we talk to Dr. Nilda Garcia, who researches serious organised crime with a focus on Mexico. We discuss the online dimension of Mexico’s drug war and how actors involved in the conflict have used social media to further their objectives.
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Mark Wilson: Hello, I'm your host for this podcast Mark Wilson. I'm a member of the Jane's Intelligence Unit, and today we're going to be talking about researching Mexico's drug war. Now joining me for this really interesting discussion is Nilda Garcia. Now Nilda is a professor at Texas A&M International University, and she researches the online dimension of the Mexican drug war. Nilda, thanks very much for joining us.
Nilda Garcia: Thank you for having me.
Mark Wilson: Maybe you could start off with telling us a little bit about yourself and how you came to be researching this topic.
Nilda Garcia: Yeah. Well, actually I grew up in a small border town called Miguel Aleman in the state of Tamaulipas and it borders Texas. Actually, it is considered a Narco- town. So, I've been exposed to this lifestyle since I was a kid, right? We had never experienced the violence that we are witnessing today, right, after the drug war was declared. But it was like, second nature to me. I've been exposed to it all my life.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: So when I went to University of Miami to study my PhD in International Studies, I didn't even know that we had a field of study, an academic study for drug trafficking. I got very interested, we had one of the leading scholars on the field teaching in this program. And he had a class about... It was titled Drug Trafficking in the Americas. So I took the class and that was it for me. It was I need to do this. This was a time where the cartels were getting very notorious about them in social media. I was about to put my dissertation together, start thinking about it. And I thought that was a good topic for me. I was just fascinated on the fact that how this criminal organizations actually evolved and adapt very quickly.
Mark Wilson: And I'm sure we'll get into a little bit more detail around that a little bit later on. But I guess for those who maybe know, maybe zero, or maybe very little about this topic, and kind of include me in that bracket. If you could help give me and our audience maybe, a brief overview of the drug war, I know it's probably very complicated thing to describe in a few minutes.
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, sure. Mexico has a long history of drug trafficking. It didn't start when the drug war started in 2006. But before it was like a more family based business. Smaller Mexico was known as being a producer of marijuana and poppy, which is the plant you produce heroin. Mexico was is in third place, it was in second place. Is in third place worldwide producer of heroin. The first one is Afghanistan, Myanmar, as you may know and then Mexico. But we didn't have the cartels as we know them yet. So circa the 1980s, we started seeing glimpses of the first drug cartels in Mexico with the Guadalajara Cartel and they traffic mainly marijuana and poppy, but then we know that the business was in the cocaine business, right? Because of the demand in the United States but that power was on the cartels in Colombia. So, they actually started working with the cartels in Colombia. And the one side, we had the Guadalajara Cartel on the Pacific side on Mexico they were working with Medellin cartel. On the other side, we had the Gulf Cartel and they were working with Cali. But the main powerful... The Mexican cartels were not as notorious. The notorious one were the Colombian cartels. So, the Mexican cartels started to get notorious after the power for cartels in Colombia, like Cali and Medellin actually demised. So, they left a power vacuum, and then the Mexican Cartels actually fill in this power vacuum, and they got the cocaine business, and then they have the marijuana business, and then they have the poppy business or the heroin business. And they already had all that infrastructure, right? Because it was the same infrastructure that was used with Colombian Cartels. So during this time, as I said before, we had in the Pacific the Guadalajara Cartel. The Guadalajara Cartel actually splitted into three other groups that we know now; the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Beltran Leyva. The Sinaloa Cartel, still one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico, with Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion or a new generation, but I can get to those in a bit. As I said before, the Mexican cartels saw this opportunity to fill the power vacuum left by the Colombian cartels. They took over the business and this is when they started to get very powerful. They knew about the Great Amanda net estates and it was very strategic because it's our neighboring country obviously. crosstalk they already control the territories. During this time, the cartels were different. I call them traditional, they have this tacit agreements. They already had this symbiotic relationship with the government. There is a lot of corruption in Mexico. So, they already were very embedded in the system, and the government and the drug trafficking business. But they were more... They had these tacit agreements, they were very established in their territories. So, we have cartels in the Pacific side, in the Gulf side and there was relative peace. They respected each other, they respected the civilians. They didn't mess with the families. So, obviously, they had their own conflicts, right?
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: They were rivals but it was-
Mark Wilson: So a lot less violent than what we see today perhaps?
Nilda Garcia: ...Yes. So we had that for a while. And then well, in 2006 we have Felipe Calderon, he declare the war on drugs. It's not the government we're not fighting the cartels before. What happened here is that Calderon wanted to model Plan Colombia which was the strategy used in Colombia to demise Medellin and Cali. And this is called the US led war on drugs. So, under these US model what you have to do to combat cartels is to militarize the war on drugs. So, instead of using your police, you're gonna use your military. And in Mexico, they were not trained to do that. Because in Mexico our military is for foreign attacks, right? Or to participate in healthy natural disasters, but now they're involved in fighting cartels. So that, was one of the things. The other one, they follow a kingpin strategy. So their strategy is to get the head of the organization and then the logic follows that organization is going to crumble. So, this is something very interesting in Mexico. Is why if in Colombia this strategy actually they got rid of this worlds powerful drug cartels in Colombia. How come in Mexico is not working?
Mark Wilson: So those kind of policies you described there was it by President Felipe Calderon? Was it exactly... crosstalk
Nilda Garcia: He militarized the war on drugs in 2006. Yes. And they started deploying the military in his NATO state actually in Michoacan.
Mark Wilson: Right.
Nilda Garcia: And then they really bought towards the North, and it expanded throughout the territory as we have it right now.
Mark Wilson: Would you say that's the step change? And maybe before it was not without conflict, what it was certainly less violent. And then obviously, since that was a step change in Mexican policy, maybe based on what worked in Colombia, like you said, suddenly, the kind of the game changes and it does become more violent after 2006. Would you agree with that or?
Nilda Garcia: It did. Militarizing the war on drugs, and it's not only the case of Mexico has proven in other countries that violence erupts and other things unintended consequences, like the violation of human rights for example, they all come with militarized in a conflict. So later, it changed, the nature of that business change. All of the sudden when they have already their established territories, the government actually worked with them, right? As I said before, there's a symbiotic relationship. And this was what maintained a little bit of peace or relative peace. When you break this, right? These tacit agreements and other administration came remember that the pre- administration was in power for what 70 years. So now we have a ban, with folks and all these tacit agreements started to crumble. So when we get to Calderon there is already a lot of tension, when it comes with who is actually governing certain territories right? That the power was shifting. So then we start seeing after the military station, Circa 2010, for example, we start seeing the birth of new cartels. And with these new cartels, we start seeing a new wave and a different type of animal. For example, we have the Zetas. The Zetas was before and after in the criminal organizations in Mexico. The Zetas could care less about the tacit agreements. They were very violent expansionist. The tacit agreements they actually agree or not disturbing the business or the turf of other criminal organizations. The Zetas didn't care. They were decapitating bodies, putting them and throwing them all around the cities. They were very violent, and they didn't care about protecting the civilians, which was another of the agreements that traditional cartels have, right?
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: So we start seeing an evolution of cartels with more violent strategies, more gruesome. Instead of the traditional cartels, they want to be loved. Obviously feared by the rivals, but loved by the people because they need this protection racket, right? By the people in order for them to conduct their business. These new ones, they don't care about that in a sense. They just want to be feared, is better to be feared than loved. That's what they believe. So, we start seeing this new business model, more expansionists, more aggressive. The Zetas is started to conquer territory all over the place. We start seeing diversification of criminal activities.
Mark Wilson: So it's not just about drugs at this point anymore? It goes more than that, it spans wider, does it? Into the other sectors?
Nilda Garcia: Yes. So, is not with these new groups of organized crime in Mexico and these new business models that they're following is not only about drug trafficking anymore. Another unintended consequences of the drug war, if you're pressuring the border, and you're not letting the drugs cross as they do usually, obviously, they're gonna start looking for money other ways. So now they're in the business of human trafficking, kidnappings, extortions, inaudible, money laundering, inaudible So if you are in a city, and this happen in my hometown, for example. You are in a city, you have a business. Well, they're going to charge you for protection. So you have to pay the rents like in the former industry, and then you have to pay them for protection. And then, for example, in my hometown, we have a lot of drive throughs, and they sell beers and drinks and stuff like this. So they actually is started to prohibit this business from selling, for example, whiskey that the businesses, obviously, buy in the United States and sell in the border because it's cheaper. Now, they actually got into the business of they were the ones that have to provide for them. Liquor and cigarettes, for example. So this is another branch of activity that they have. And they have come up with a lot of ideas to actually make more money. When the border is being very controlled, right? So they have diversified their activities. And it's not only about drugs anymore. So this is a debate of whether, what if you legalize drugs, right? If you legalize marijuana, what is gonna happen? Well, you're gonna take that part of the business from there, but what about all the other business that they have, and they're very lucrative. This is where a new generation form of cartels. They're younger. They're more aggressive. They're very a strategic and technological and they're very sophisticated. The traditional cartels are sophisticated as well. But now these new cartels have different business models and violence erupted because they try to invade from other cartels, obviously, they're now fighting throughout the territory. There is a metastasis of criminal organizations and violence throughout the Mexican territory. And now, if we started that drug war with five main cartels, now we have like nine or maybe 10. Some of them have survived, some of them have demised or they're not around anymore. Some of them expanded, some of them retracted like the Zetas expanded tremendously. And it was a second cartel in Mexico in a very short period of time. They retracted, they're now fragmented into two groups, but these new groups follow these business models. So now we have Cartel Jalisco Newer Generation. And also we have to take into account that the demand for drugs changes as well. So yes, the United States is the main consumer of drugs in the world, but now the gap is closing with Europe. We have Mexican cartels well established in Australia, for example. So as the inaudible growing, and as other type of drugs are actually on the market. So now fentanyl is a drug that is very popular because it's cheaper and is very potent. So they took this... They saw this opportunity, Cartel Jalisco New Generation to take over the fentanyl business and this is how they're getting a lot of power. Also, they're expansionist, they want to control. For example, they fight for the state of Michoacan. So they have this port, Lazaro Cardenas, which is the biggest maritime port in Latin America. You get a lot of shipments there from South America, and also the precursors to be able to produce the drugs from China. So this is a strategic point that they are fighting for, and they are trying to control. And these strategic points is under strategic drugs that they're selling. This is what is making this cartel for example, more powerful in Mexico.
Mark Wilson: You mentioned there are the new generation of cartels, they are more expansionist in nature. They're more aggressive perhaps toward each other and to perhaps the general populace, but I mean I've seen some videos, for example, on social media of one of the cartels, inaudible cartel, and they are in a long procession of military vehicles. And I think it might be that one, I think you'll correct me, if I'm wrong. A long procession of military vehicles, they are armed to the hilt with what looked like automatic weapons. To the untrained eye perhaps you would kind of go through that and your social media feed and you'd be forgiven for thinking that was actually the Mexican military. Is this something that you see across the younger generation of cartels these days?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, yes. They are highly sophisticated. You confuse them. If you're traveling through Mexico, in the Northern states, for example, in the area where I'm from, and you see them in the streets, you don't even know who's who, right? Because they have these sophisticated vehicles, they have these sophisticated weaponry, and you can confuse them. It is believed that Cartel Jalisco New Generation is in the business of producing their own weapons. And this is one of the things that might have like a competitive advantage for them. But they do have all these sophisticated weaponry that is even... It is equivalent to the one from the military. So yeah.
Mark Wilson: Yeah, yes. So that's a really, really useful kind of introduction to this war. They will thank you for that, I mean. I guess where I want this conversation to go next is on maybe focusing more on what you've researched. And that is the kind of the online dimension of this drug war essentially. And so could you tell us a bit more about the online dimension? And perhaps why this drug war has actually gravitated towards social media in the first place?
Nilda Garcia: Sure. So cartels have always used the media, traditional media or mainstream media very strategically. So they used to put, I don't know if you have heard about the Narcomantas, which are-
Mark Wilson: No, explain that one to me.
Nilda Garcia: ...Okay. Narcomantas, this was a like an advertising tool for the cartel. So these are messages left on cloth banners, usually containing threats or messages, or an explanation for a criminal activity. So, I don't know an example, we are here because we are trying to get some person because we're claiming territory, or sometimes is we are here because the government is not even protecting you. So we are here to protect the population. Or they usually also use them to recruit people. Like we pay very well. I actually saw one of these in Colorado, which is across where I live in rural Texas. They're like, we're looking for new members, we're recruiting, we pay you very well, we treat you very well. And then a phone number there.
Mark Wilson: So this is out there on the street? This is kind of in the offline world, right?
Nilda Garcia: They usually like in bridges or in... Yeah, they just put them all over the city.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: So things like this caught the attention of the media. So they usually... Oh, there's a Narcomanta and they are note about them, right, in the news. So it was like free advertising for the cartels. And the same with the newspapers. So they were very strategic about or they do something to cut the attention of the media. For example, in Monterrey Nuevo Leon, I don't know if you knew about this case. That they actually burned out a casino with some people inside and it was a lot of deaths. So the media comes and they report on them. And this is free advertising in national level, international level. They send their messages or they used to send that in this way, right? Narcomantas and things like this. They also control in local newspapers. They control what the news were about out there. So they extortion the owner of the newspaper, and they ban them from publishing notes of a rival cartel, and just focusing on them for them to powerful and yes, yeah. They could advertising for the organization. So it was in the media with the war and the violence, obviously, there were more notes about it in the media, you only heard about them, right? It was shootings here and shootings there. So they decided in 2011, it was like 70, mainstream media outlets came together and came in and sign an agreement. And they say, they are taking advantage of the media, traditional media, and we are actually free advertising them. And this is what we are putting there to the public, right? This is the information we are consuming. So they decided not to go forward to this. And they banned, actually the, yeah, covering this type of-
Mark Wilson: In mainstream media.
Nilda Garcia: ... Yes.So this is when they actually lost this platform for exposure, right? And this is fun. In Mexico, in 2010, we experienced a boom on the use of Facebook and then Twitter, also YouTube. So the cartels saw this. And they evolve rapidly, and they adapt. So they saw this as an opportunity for them to start exploring, and the social media is an ungoverned space, right? So they took advantage of this. And they just started using these outlets, blogs. Blog del Narco is a very famous one. And they took advantage of this in order for them to expand their business model and their modus operandi. And they actually... Yeah, it's very intrinsic to their strategies.
Mark Wilson: Sounds like they've adapted again, in response to being shut down in mainstream media, and then looked for different ways of getting their messages out. And I guess that still continues today, doesn't it? Their presence on social media, which I now really want to go into that with you really in the next few questions really. I mean, just kind of moving on to your research. So your research, one of the key questions you look at and again, correct me if I'm wrong, is whether or not social media has actually empowered these cartels in some way. And so, in your research, have you have you found the cartels use social media in particular ways to achieve certain objectives? I mean, give us your thoughts on that.
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, actually, I studied three groups. So the Sinaloa, the Zetas and the Knight Templars or Caballeros templarios, which they're not around anymore, maybe some cells. Yes. So I found out they actually use it in different ways. They follow different strategies. And some of them are more successful than others. And for example Sinaloa, they were more for advertising or PR with the people. The people felt closer to them, because it's just a click away, when you can actually send a message to a couple that you admire, because there is a Narco culture in Mexico. The people admire these leaders, right?
Mark Wilson: So there's a dynamic going on as well, right? From people on the ground, is this kind of operation for some of the cartels. Is that right?
Nilda Garcia: Yes. So as I mentioned before, having the love of the people is very important for them having the support because you can actually conduct your business more at ease, right? And the city protects them actually from the government. So they need this relationship. The Sinaloa was more strategic in the sense that they advertise their lifestyle. So they will put up or post pictures about a very luxurious lifestyle of a drug trafficker in Mexico or a drug trafficker. If you're going to be on the Sinaloa Cartel, you're going to have this mansion, and you're going to have all these cars, and you're going to have this beautiful woman and exotic animals and then you're going to have your own plane. So they advertise this exotic lifestyle. That is kind of obviously for young people they want that, right? They want the excitements and then obviously with other series that we have available to us. So the Sinaloa cartel on social media make the lifestyle desirable. This is one of the main strengths. They're not going to, for example, post something in real life. If they're doing business in Chicago, and they want to post a picture of that. They're going to wait a couple of days, and other organizations are not as clever, right? So for example, in the Zetas, and this is just like a very brief overview.
Mark Wilson: Sure.
Nilda Garcia: The Zetas are more aggressive. You're not going to see luxury in The Zetas, you're going to see more aggressive. You see that the human side of them, because you're scrolling through their accounts and is like, they read a love letter, and they're in love. And then the next and you're like, oh, they have a heart, right? And then next post is a dismember body and a lot of violence and they post very proudly. They have their gear that looks like a military gear with Zetas logo and then the carbon of the weapons they have. And they post very proudly the pictures and in the videos that they are part of the Zetas. And they're going to a mission because they have to protect their territory, they're going to battle someone else, a rival cartel, and they send threatening messages. They send threatening messages to a town. So we're going to this down. We don't want to see anybody in the streets by 11 PM, for example. So everyone that is going to be out, we are advising that we're going to shoot anyone that is out of their homes. So, they work through fear and kind of gain the respect of people through fear. And then the other case that I study. The leader use more YouTube and it was a little bit less successful because obviously through a video you can see the surroundings.
Mark Wilson: So this is the Knights Templar group, was it you said?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah.
Mark Wilson: Okay, sorry. Carry on.
Nilda Garcia: I said it in Spanish. I'm sorry, the Knight Templars.
Mark Wilson: The Knight Templar was on YouTube, you're saying?
Nilda Garcia: Yes, so the leader decided that the channel that or the platform he wanted to use was YouTube. Zetas use Twitter a lot, Facebook a lot. Sinaloa use more Twitter and they have Facebook presence as well. But the Twitter presence of Sinaloa it was millions of people, it was just unbelievable. People from all over the world, people from the military, people from the FBI. It's insane the platform that follows these people. The Knight Templars, they decided to go and use YouTube, the leader at the time, he liked to film videos and see himself in videos. So when you use YouTube, you are risking a little bit more because you have surroundings you can see it. Is easier for people to locate you if you have intelligence. The sounds of the environments. So it is believed that it was because of the exposure of this leader that actually got him arrested or people could located because he was very open on shooting videos on YouTube. If you use the other platforms, maybe you're a little bit more protected, and you follow different strategies. I found that Sinaloa Cartel's strategy was the more successful, and then the Zetas and then exposing yourself in YouTube, I don't think that was the greatest idea in the world. And it is believed it led to his capture because he was posting a lot of information.
Mark Wilson: Sure, yeah. So you mentioned the some of the platforms that some of these cartels have been present on you mentioned, the likes of Sinaloa on Twitter, and then the Knights Templar, on YouTube. And in your research, do you find that by and large, these cartels have focused on mainstream platforms? Or have they also gravitated to lesser known platforms out there? Or even the dark web for example?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, so actually... Yes. They have presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, but then they have adapted to other types of or new ones. For example, during COVID like TikTok was a hit, right? Everyone was using TikTok and they were not absent from this, they're actually using TikTok. And this is like the next platform that I want to get into, I don't know if they are actually dancing in these videos. I don't know, I have to find out what type of content they're uploading on TikTok but they have presence there. I know the Sinaloa Cartel members, they have presence on TikTok. On the dark web, we know these cartels, or at least cells of these cartels sell their product on the dark web. So I am pretty sure that as the whole world have actually tried to adapt to a virtual environments because of the pandemic, they're doing the same. I'm pretty sure they have their strategies. They were very strategic or trying to actually sell or exploit more this type of transactions, right? Because obviously, the world stopped for a bit and they need to continue their business and they adapt very quickly. So I'm pretty sure they're being successful in selling drugs in the dark web right now and conquering all social media platforms.
Mark Wilson: It sounds like a bit of a pick and mix approach. What I mean is, I guess we'll get into it a little bit later, in terms of the response to the cartel presence on social media and potential crackdowns and stuff like that. But it sounds as though they're extremely good at adapting. So is there a kind of an information war going on here, on social media? For example, do you have government institutions on social media that are kind of trying to undermine the narratives of the cartels in any way?
Nilda Garcia: Sadly, I haven't come across a lot of accounts like that. Actually. On the other hand, I've seen groups for example, like Anonymous.
Mark Wilson: Oh, the hacking collective?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, so they actually got into a battle or a cyber warfare with the Zetas back then because they actually kidnap a couple of their members.
Mark Wilson: Who kidnapped who? Just so I can crosstalk that correctly.
Nilda Garcia: The Zetas kidnapped a couple of members from Anonymous in Mexico. It was in Veracruz and they were demonstrating or something and they just took them. Anonymous went ballistic online and they were, we are going to discover all your network of people, governors, taxes. All your network is going to be posted online, they have this information. And well, it went for a couple of days, right. This back and forth of the Zetas and Anonymous on social media. And then, the Zetas actually free these people so Anonymous actually won this battle. If you want to see it that way, but we have seen instances of that. People are tired of this injustice and the treatment of cartels like this. In the one hand, you admire one of the people, or have like the Sinaloa have a base of people that actually love them, right? Or admire this organization. In cases of the Zetas, there are groups that people don't like because they are very aggressive and violent. And they don't care about innocent people. The Citizenry also have instances of, they have open spaces and Facebook pages and blogs in order to report them. So is The Citizenry also have like a warfare with them, which kind of dismantle a little bit because the Zetas started killing these people, and they started posting lives of the situations. For example, he was a doctor in Reynosa, Tamaulipas just open a space for people to denounce where members of the cartel were, for example. Where the blockades were. If you knew where they lived, or they have people because they're in the business of actually, coyotes, right? Which are crossing immigrants into the United States, so they put them in a house. And then they wait until they can cross them. So people were denouncing this, they have immigrants there, they're gonna cross them. So what the Zetas did was they located this person that was responsible for the creation of the space and it was live. They made her in her Twitter account post that she was caught, and they took a picture of her before, that going after the cartels was not worth it. That she put her life and life in danger and her family's life in danger. And a couple of minutes later, they posted a picture of her already dead, right? And this was like lifetime. And I actually I followed... I happen to be on Twitter when that happened. And they started doing this and sending these messages. Obviously, people's going to... They stop reporting. So this cyber war that people had against them kind of dissipated a little bit because of fear, right? So I see those instances... I've seen for example, leaders of cartels sending messages when Pena Nieto was in office, threatening messages, for example, but I never saw a back and forth on situations like this with the government, but I saw it with other groups like Anonymous and The Citizenry, as I mentioned.
Mark Wilson: But what if you could tell us a bit about how you've actually gone about researching the topic on social media? And perhaps, how the methodologies that you've used have actually helped you to track the conflicts? Can you tell us a bit about how you've gone about that element of your research?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, so I actually divided my research into parts. So one was, I needed to measure the cartel survival capacity, because that was one of my questions. What makes Mexican cartels so strong, right? So obviously, there is a combination of factors. But I found that social media was a new factor that we can add to this formula that is actually strengthening their strategies. So first, I had to measure survival capacity, indicators of violence, criminal activity. So I measure organizational shocks, and see how the criminal activities actually develop after that, to try to have an idea of the strength of the cartel. And you can see through time, how they adapt. How if they know that having a hierarchical structure, if they're following a kingpin strategy, obviously, you are going to be very vulnerable. So they started changing and putting other types or forming other types of a structure in where if you lose one of the leaders, your organization is going to continue.
Mark Wilson: So it more decentralized perhaps?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, more decentralized. Sinaloa follows the hubs and spokes and it has been very successful for them. And we can talk a little bit about the structures when I come with a social network analysis. So when you're measuring survival capacity, you can see how they are adapting and how they're restructuring. Because if they lose a leader, and you see their criminal activities, violence erupting, because you know that when a leader is gone, or organization is gone, other cartels want to actually take advantage of this vulnerability of the organization. And they want to take over turf, or the organization. And then the other stage was social media usage and presence. So I studied three main platforms was Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And I did it in three stages. So first, I did the social network analysis, which actually led me to very interesting findings. So what you do here is, for example, I have this software that I can upload or download all the network on Twitter, they don't have the rights for Facebook, but on Twitter, and I was able to actually visualize. I was very intrigued or interested in seeing how the structures actually differ from the physical ones. For example, Sinaloa is hubs and spokes, that is the structure they follow. And then I found that on social media, this structure actually, is the one that they have in the virtual space as well. If you follow their Twitter account and their universe of network on the Twitter space, you are going to see they're actually divided the same. So, the physical structure mirrors in this case, and in the Zetas case, their virtual structure and I thought that was very interesting. For these analysis on social media, well, I had this tool, right? To download the data on Facebook, I had to go account by account.
Mark Wilson: Manual?
Nilda Garcia: Yes, and try to uncover their network. It was a lot of work. It was very interesting, exhausting as well, because you're exposed to a lot of violence and things you don't want to see.
Mark Wilson: Sure.
Nilda Garcia: But you want to study. So that one was a little bit more challenging, but at the same time, you find very interesting things in their accounts. It is unbelievable the amount of information that they actually post in these outlets. So I went one by one, obviously. I just wanted to look.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: I didn't want to crosstalk
Mark Wilson: From a monitoring perspective. Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, I just to see what is going on, right? So, yes, it was very interesting to go through their accounts, link them and know how they actually work in the virtual space. So the social network analysis was very interesting, because you can see their structures. And as I mentioned, it reflects their physical structures. And then you can see, for example, the Zetas been more decentralized. And also you can find, or I found traces, or hints of new organizations forming.
Mark Wilson: Wow.
Nilda Garcia: For example, when I was doing this research of one of my cases, it was the Zetas. I saw cells or like glimpses of a new organization, forming, that now is one of the cartels that got very powerful in Tamaulipas, for example. And I saw just how it was forming, and then they became their own cartel right now. And the Zetas actually separated between Zetas old school, and this Cartel Del Noreste or CDN. And I saw glimpses of this cartel forming. So I think if we look more in depth, we can see and we can project how the organization is going to actually develop in the future.
Mark Wilson: That's fascinating. So it's kind of an early detection mechanism of potential new cells that might be coming online by the now or might be a big player in the future. Perhaps also you were able to get insights on how there was kind of fragmentation within some of the cartels as well?
Nilda Garcia: Exactly. I saw glimpses of that too because if you are seeing that one of the cells is actually forming and it's becoming stronger. You are going to see that probably there going to be clashes or inter- cartel clashes and they're going to separate. So you have glimpses of this when you study their social media because they post everything in there. And you can actually get that information and I don't have any sophisticated equipment. So I found this just in my computer and just looking into these accounts and obviously using this software. But it's nothing that you can not do in your own computer, right? So, I was fascinated to see how much information I got and how actually ii can or you can predict when another organization is forming or as you have mentioned when it's fracturing.
Mark Wilson: I guess as well, I mean, social media as we know, right? If you're looking at any topic on social media it is real time, isn't it?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah.
Mark Wilson: Any topic not just the one we're talking about today. So, if you're looking at this stuff on social media, essentially you were monitoring what the cartels were doing in real time. Is that what you found?
Nilda Garcia: Some of them do post things in real time. Some of them no.
Mark Wilson: Okay.
Nilda Garcia: Some of them post in real- time when they're going into missions and it's very interesting to see that they are proud of going. We're fighting, we're going to do this and we're fighting such group. It can go both ways. Sometimes they upload the pictures of the aftermath of the battle when they won. But sometimes these people they are very young sometimes. You see them going into the mission very excited and then you see the other cartel posting the aftermath and they were killed, you know?
Mark Wilson: Right.
Nilda Garcia: So it's very interesting to see all this content and this is real time. That case that I told you about the doctor, the killing of her happened real time on Twitter. So, yeah.
Mark Wilson: And just to close this up I guess, I mean, have been facing crackdowns by social media platforms and also where do you see this heading in future in terms of cartel usage of the online space.
Nilda Garcia: Yeah. In terms of crackdown, I have seen this more on terrorist organizations like ISIS for example. I know Facebook has a team of people and they were very adamant or very into this work of getting accounts down.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: When I was doing my research on the social media on cartels. I saw just a couple of cases when their accounts were actually blocked or deleted. I didn't see much of it.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: They can still post information. When it comes to the future, there is a lot of pressure on these platforms. I'm actually part of a group that is called the Alliance to Countering Crime here in the United States, it's based in Washington. And, we want to actually put out for policy to be formed and not in order for this content not to be out there because this is convenient for the cartels obviously they recruit a lot of people. They get this legitimacy, through this media, especially, and the violence that they put there that a lot of people are exposed to. So they have a lot of pressure when it comes to this. The type of information that can be posted on social media. I think that that is a little tricky, right? Because it's the right of freedom of speech.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: And then it's policy according to the platform.
Mark Wilson: Sure.
Nilda Garcia: And it's on them because it's private, right? But I think because of the pressure, I think they're going to start doing something because of this. But it's going to be hard to track them. It's going to be hard to be after them because as I am saying before, they adapt, they change, they're very quickly. When they were trying to do this with ISIS, they close one account and they already had 10 align.
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: You know they'll still crosstalk.
Mark Wilson: They'll be ready for the problem. Like you said, we've seen all their actions on social media. You might have just outlined there. I mean that kind of a workable approach, isn't it? You get social media firms trying their best to kind of crack down on this access and then like you just said they pop up somewhere else maybe not on the same platform, maybe on a different platform.
Nilda Garcia: Exactly.
Mark Wilson: Maybe it doesn't have the same level of visibility as the previous platform had and around the merry- go- round we go essentially, isn't it? You see just the same thing, similar dynamic happening with the cartels.
Nilda Garcia: Yeah. As we open new platforms, new social media platforms, they just going to move, right?
Mark Wilson: Yeah.
Nilda Garcia: And they move quickly. So, I think this is hard to stop.
Mark Wilson: Thank you Nil. I think that brings this podcast to an end. But I just want to thank you so much for giving us an hour of your time, sharing your expertise on such a fascinating topic. And I just wanted to highlight your research on this finally, as well so you've got a book out on this topic. Haven't you? Would you like to tells us about that?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah, thank you for mentioning that. My book just came out this year, it was published in April. It is called Mexico's Drug War and Criminal Networks: The Dark Side of Social Media and it was published by Routledge and here I explain my in depth. My research, I have a little bit of background of the Mexican Drug War and I study more in depth Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas and everything I've been talking about. I've got their social network analysis, all these models. You can see them there. It is available everywhere. You can buy crosstalk.
Mark Wilson: Everywhere?
Nilda Garcia: Yeah.
Mark Wilson: Fantastic, so you hear that folks that's Mexico's Drug War and Criminal Networks: The Dark Side of Social Media by Nilda Garcia. That is fantastic, well thank you again for your time Nilda.
Nilda Garcia: Thank you Mark, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this.
Mark Wilson: It's been a pleasure and best of luck with your research. Speak to you soon.
Nilda Garcia: Bye. Speak to you soon.
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