Mexican cartels target and recruit young adults through social media

Members use images of guns, money and girls to appeal to youths


Via cesar bojorquez/Flickr.

In Mexico, as the drug market continues to grow, so has the power and influence of drug cartels. The nation has been the centerfold for drug flow into the United States for decades and is laden with military-like cartels that clash amongst the authorities and one another.

Part of the reason Mexican cartels have been able to gain power is due to their recruitment efforts that target young men, typically late teens to those in their early 20s.

Social media is a significant component of recruitment and appeal. Although the bravado boasted by those within cartel networks is not new, social media platforms have served as a modern medium to display such “perks.”

Instagram accounts run by alleged cartel members show these individuals flashing guns, exotic cars and more to thousands of impressionable eyes. The indirect solicitation is intended to attract the interest of young men yearning for what’s at play, whether it be money, power or women.

In a nation like Mexico where a significant portion of the population lives in poverty, the luxurious lifestyle touted by cartel members can make the life of a cartel member seem like a lifeline. Members push the narrative that with hard work and loyalty toward a cartel, anyone can have a luxurious life – leaving out how dangerous and illegal that life is.

Cartel members also employ direct recruitment efforts through social media. Military-esque ads have been uploaded to sites like Facebook and Instagram advertising cartels and their wages.

Fransico Uribe, a 20-year-old who lived in Mexico, has seen this firsthand. He was contacted by a cartel member, a former classmate, in an attempt to recruit him. The classmate of his sent him and his friends an invitation to join the Sinaloa cartel.

“I had a couple of classes with him and I knew he was involved but I never imagined he would have ever invited us to join,” Uribe said. “He sometimes posts pictures of him in the middle of nowhere with other people around dressed in military gear.”

The reach and growth these cartels are having is of concern, particularly due to the nature of what recruited members are being brought into. The violence and instability perpetuated by drug traffickers is not activity that a person can merely walk away from.

The growth of cartel activity is not limited to Mexico. Global drug trafficking has accumulated around $32 billion annually, according to an estimation conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

With seemingly unfettered growth, it is unlikely that these recruitment campaigns will cease any time soon.