Cartel videos go viral on TikTok among Latino youth
With shiny semiautomatic weapons and fancy cars, narco-culture has become popular with the algorithm and many young Latinos see it as a way to connect with their roots.
The culture of drug trafficking took over social media in Mexico years ago, obscuring the bloodbath and violence that plagues the country with images of dancers, semiautomatic weapons and big cars. Netflix series like Narcos have also only strengthened and extended the way of life that confronts death daily.
This month, North American users of TikTok were surprised when the platform's algorithm promoted images of cartels that were hidden until now. The spark was a clip of a boat chase that went viral and landed on 'For You' page, recommending it alongside TikTok's most-watched post.
Since the incident, the snowball has grown bigger and bigger, and drug-trafficking videos are regularly suggested. Many users wonder if the trend is part of a "narco-marketing" strategy, as associated TikTok posts have been played up to 500,000 times.
While a TikTok spokesman told the New York Times that the company was committed to "fighting organized criminal activity" and is eliminating the content of these accounts, they are growing in number like mushrooms in light of a new trend that brings easy money, morbidity and fear.
According to Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside the Criminal Insurgency in Mexico, what's happening with TikTok is as old in the country as the war against the cartels.
First, there were the videos of torture and decapitations on YouTube, the purpose of which was to intimidate both rival gangs and the government itself, said Grillo. But as the criminal groups became more digital, the jump to social media was inevitable and with it, a new air of invincibility.
It is also ironic that the surge happened during the summer, as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visited Jalisco. The New Generation cartel uploaded a video showing off their high-caliber weapons. It was a real slap to the face for López Obrador, who had committed to ending the violence of the cartels, but who also has not yet to stop the rising murder rate, which hit a record of 34,582 last year.
In addition, the strategy of viral videos and bravado has other objectives: to recruit young people in rural areas and serve as bait in their internal wars. The move to TikTok has done nothing more than take "trendy gangsterism" to another level.
"The message has to be fast, attractive and viral. Violence becomes fun and even music," Spanish anthropologist Alejandra León Olvera, an expert on how Mexican organized crime groups use social media, told the Times.
Now, fueled by film and television and not directly suffering from the actions of cartels, young Americans, many of them of Latino origin, have access to and experience the luxurious fantasies of narco-hedonism, experts warn, as a way to connect with their own Mexican roots.