In Mexico, social media takes on the narco

(Image courtesy New America Media)

Louis E.V. Nevaer

New America Media

MERIDA, Mexico — In an unprecedented move, Mexican members of Anonymous, the renegade group of hackers responsible for breaching the security of banks, financial institutions and government agencies, have issued a direct challenge to Mexican narcos: Because we can’t fight you with weapons, we will destroy by destroying your privacy.

In an online video posted on YouTube, a man claiming to be a spokesman for Anonymous, a loose confederation of hackers around the world without a formal organization, threatened to “unmask” the narcos.

“No podemos defendernos con armas” (We cannot defend ourselves with weapons), a man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask says in a Spanish accent, “pero podemos hacer esto con sus coches, casas, bares y todo lo que poseen. No será difícil. Todos sabemos quiénes son y dónde están” (but we can identify your cars, homes, bars and everything you own. It won’t be difficult. We all know who you are and where you are.’)

Mexican members of Anonymous claim that the drug cartel Los Zetas kidnapped one of their members in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and are demanding his immediate release. They recently indicated that they are prepared to hack into cartel members’ bank accounts and wreak financial havoc on the narcos in order to paralyze their activities.

This escalation of social media comes months after Los Zetas themselves launched a series of YouTube videos late this summer threatening people in Veracruz to desist from using social media to provide information to the authorities and law enforcement. Those threats, in the style of al-Qaeda videos declaring global jihad in recent years, enraged Mexican youth, who took up the threat as a challenge — and soon, Facebook and Twitter were flooded with leads about the narcos.

The Anonymous message has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times by Mexicans, and has dominated social media networks in Mexico since it was made.

Mexicans have speculated on the veracity and audacity of Anonymous, wondering if their members will risk incurring the wrath of the drug cartels.

Now #OpCartel (Operation Cartel) on Twitter claims that Anonymous has suspended its threat to attack Los Zetas.

But speculation continues in the Mexican blogosphere over the cyber-conflict — and how successful such an attack would be. Anonymous has launched dedicated service attacks, which disable servers, crashing the websites of organizations such as PayPal, Visa, MasterCard and targeted government agencies. How or where Anonymous would publish detailed information about Los Zetas members–or attempt to hack their bank accounts and disable their financial networks–remain the subject of heated debate on Mexican social media sites.

Los Zetas have threatened to decapitate any hacker found to have taken action against any narco. They have also issued messages threatening members of Mexico’s National Action Party, or PAN, the political party of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, as well as leaders of state and local governments throughout Mexico.

Mexicans from all walks of life remain unsure what this heightened escalation of a civil uprising against the drug traffickers means, especially as Mexico heads into national elections next year.

Some speculate that social media could help bolster whoever the PAN nominates for next year’s presidential election, more out of defiance against the drug cartels than for support for the PAN. For now, Mexico is holding its collective breath waiting for the next development: Will Anonymous publish information about members of Los Zetas, or will Los Zetas kidnap other members of Anonymous?

A YouTube video will surely tell.

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