Cartel Violence Goes Viral
December 1, 2020
The Good News
- ‘World’s loneliest elephant’ arrives in Cambodia after help from Cher (NBC) Cher’ing is caring.
- Taking a side on ecocide: International lawyers draft plan to criminalise ecosystem destruction (Guardian)
- How this rapper quit his music career to start a cat rescue (NBC). From freestyling to felines.
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — William Shakespeare
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” — Will Rogers
Cartel Violence Goes Viral
(Spencer Platt via Getty Images)
Note to Cartel TikTok: Your latest genre of romanticized narco-culture videos are a movie we’ve seen before — one that definitely does not end well. The tiger cubs, piles of cash, fancy cars, and blinged-out dancers are straight out of 1983’s Scarface, the movie about a ruthless Cuban refugee who arrives penniless in Miami and becomes a powerful drug lord, only to be violently destroyed by his own greed and addiction.
As social platforms have evolved and drug cartels have become more digitally savvy, the social media content is more sophisticated. Predominantly crude and horrific images once posted on YouTube have become alluring videos aimed at enticing young men in rural Mexico with the potential benefits of joining the drug trade: endless cash, expensive cars, beautiful women, exotic pets.
Today’s sanitized images depicting Mexican drug trafficking groups and their activities go viral on TikTok feeds, but nowhere will anything be seen relating to Mexico’s exploding murder record. Organized crime experts say Cartel TikTok is just the latest propaganda campaign to mask the bloodbath and use the promise of infinite wealth to attract expendable young recruits. “It’s narco-marketing,” says Alejandra León Olvera, an anthropologist studying the presence of Mexican organized crime groups on social media. The cartels “use these kinds of platforms for publicity…hedonistic publicity.”
Or as a former member of Mexican law enforcement puts it: “It’s all about the dream, it’s all about the hustle. That’s what they sell.”
Cartel content began flooding TikTok feeds in the US this month, after a clip of a high-speed boat chase went viral. American teens got the boat chase video on their For You Page, which recommends engaging videos to users. Millions liked and shared the clip, boosting the video in the For You page algorithm; as soon as users viewed the boat chase video, the algorithm began offering clips of exotic pets and cars that appeared to come from drug trafficking groups in Mexico.
A spokeswoman for TikTok said the company was “committed to working with law enforcement to combat organized criminal activity,” and that it removed “content and accounts that promote illegal activity.” But for Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who campaigned on a promise of confronting crime with “hugs not bullets,” the drug traffickers’ strategy has been a punch in the gut to his government’s security strategy; he has been unable to make a significant dent in his country’s soaring violence.
Tiktok brought a new dimension to the cartel genre. León says: “The message has to be quick, it has to be engaging, and it has to be viral. Violence becomes fun, or even put to music.” And it’s reaching an audience that never saw Scarface.
A Political Crackdown Amidst An African Lockdown
(Luke Dray via Getty Images)
- Several high-profile opposition leaders in East Africa have recently been jailed, exiled, or silenced as they challenge entrenched leaders and political parties. Current heads of state are using COVID-19 as a pretext to strengthen their grip on power, and have introduced laws to smother dissent. Bobi Wine, Uganda’s most prominent opposition candidate, has been tear-gassed, arrested, and beaten by police, held in solitary confinement, and charged in court for holding campaign events in violation of COVID-19 restrictions.
- Ugandans vote in January; if he survives, Wine hopes to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country with an iron grip since 1986. Tundu Lissu, a former lawmaker in Tanzania, received death threats while campaigning, and was hounded out of the country after an October election that international observers said was likely fraudulent.
- In Ethiopia, media mogul and opposition figure Jawar Mohammed has been imprisoned on terrorism charges for nearly five months. A professor of international affairs in New York, and co-author of the book “Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change,” says “Opposition movements are facing some of the most dire challenges to their existence since this era of democratization first took hold in the region in the early 1990s.”
- Internationally, there has been less attention and outcry than usual, as many countries that traditionally serve as watchdogs are preoccupied with the pandemic and domestic concerns. Then there’s the US, which under President Trump’s isolationist leadership, has not only not engaged in defending human rights globally, but has lost credibility to intervene as American police forces were videoed violating human rights at home. (NYT)
The Goddess Of Democracy Goes On Trial
- Hong Kong’s youthful activist Agnes Chow was only 17 in 2014 when she began advocating for more democratic freedom. In addition to her native Cantonese, Chow taught herself Japanese; she spoke to followers in Japan in their language, which over the years helped internationalize her city’s struggles as Beijing was bringing down the hammer on its democratic ambitions.
- On July 1, 2020, China implemented an authoritarian national security law aimed at stifling dissent and protest in Hong Kong. Chow was arrested and pleaded guilty to violating the Public Order Ordinance by inciting others to take part and knowingly participating in an unauthorized assembly outside police headquarters.
- Chow is revered in Japan as the goddess of democracy, but she and fellow activists Joshua Wong, 24, and Ivan Lam, 26, face up to five years in a Hong Kong prison. They’ll be sentenced on Wednesday — one day before Chow turns 24. (WaPo)
Additional World News
- 1% of farms operate 70% of world’s farmland (Guardian). Big pharma? Nope, big farm.
- Brazil’s Amazon: Deforestation ‘surges to 12-year high’ (BBC)
- Cuban Dissidents Just Scored a Rare Breakthrough in Fight Against Communism (Vice)
- Racist Russian satire: Pro-Kremlin TV ridicules Obama with blackface skit (WaPo, $)
- Russia under renewed pressure to explain Navalny poisoning (AP)
- France to rewrite police security bill after huge protests (BBC)
- An ailing alliance: NATO Needs to Adapt Quickly to Stay Relevant for 2030, Report Urges (NYT, $)
- Why I’m Losing Hope in India (Bloomberg)
- China Refuses To Apologize To Australia Over Official’s Tweet Of Doctored Image (NPR)
- Leaked documents reveal China’s mishandling of the early stages of COVID-19 pandemic (CNN). Unfurling a February facade.
- How to Deal With Life in Long-Term Isolation (NYT, $)
- COVID-19: Individually Rational, Collectively Disastrous (Atlantic, $)
- Coronavirus Pandemic: Ranking The Best, Worst Places to Be (Bloomberg)
- A year after Wuhan alarm, China seeks to change Covid origin story (Guardian)
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Now That’s Some Insulting Consulting
- Documents released last week in a New York federal bankruptcy court show the role the world’s most prestigious consulting firm had played in advising the Sackler family, billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma, on how to “turbocharge” sales of the opioid OxyContin at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans had died from abusing the highly addictive drug.
- One outrageous option, of several that McKinsey & Company laid out to shore up sales, was to pay Purdue’s distributors a rebate for every OxyContin overdose attributable to pills they sold. In the 2017 presentation, McKinsey’s consultants estimated how many customers of companies, including CVS and Anthem, might overdose.
- In 2019, for example, the projection was that 2,484 CVS customers would have an overdose or develop an opioid use disorder. A rebate of $14,810 per “event” meant that Purdue would pay CVS $36.8 million that year. Also among the documents were emails showing that five years earlier, in 2012, two of McKinsey’s highest-ranking consultants had persuaded the Sackler family to aggressively market OxyContin.
- Although the McKinsey 2012 plan had been accepted, by 2017 Purdue’s CEO Craig Landau wrote that the opioid crisis was caused by “too many Rxs being written” at “too high a dose” and “for too long.” He said the drugs were being prescribed “for conditions that often don’t require them” by physicians who lacked “the requisite training in how to use them appropriately.”
- Astonishingly, when McKinsey was later told to “disassemble” the aggressive sales campaign, Landau was quoted as saying it was something “we should have done five years ago.” In October 2020, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to criminal charges involving OxyContin. (NYT)
Additional USA News
- Are we out of the blue from a coup? Did American Democracy Really Hold? Maybe Not. & The toxic polarisation of our politics can be reversed, but it will take humility (Politico, Guardian)
- “Mad King” Trump’s Post-Election Spiral Was Even More Deranged Behind Closed Doors (Vanity Fair)
- A word from Bernie Sanders: How do we avoid future authoritarians? Winning back the working class is key (Guardian)
- Families Have Been Torn Apart by Politics. What Happens to Them Now? (NYT, $)
- Predictably, some Republican voters in Georgia are turning on the party (WaPo, $)
- Why Stacey Abrams Is Confident Georgia Will Stay Blue (NYT, $). Stacey’s calm has got it going on.
- Why Black Men and Women Vote So Differently (Atlantic, $)
- News, to the max: Newsmax Rises On Wave Of Resentment Toward Media — Especially Fox News (NPR)
- Facebook’s blackout didn’t dent political ad reach (Axios)
- The Cost of Trump’s Assault on the Press and the Truth (New Yorker, $)
- Checked out: Don’t expect a second stimulus check this year (CNN)
- Bipartisan group of senators seeks coronavirus stimulus deal (Axios)
This Town Is F**king Done
- One might ask what took the officials of an Austrian village named Fucking so long to change the town’s name. After all, some experts said the name dates back to the 11th century. Anyway, according to Fucking’s mayor, the residents, called Fuckingers, had apparently finally “had enough of visitors and their bad jokes.”
- It seems the ridicule of their signposts, especially on social media, had simply become too much to bear. Minutes from a recent municipal council meeting showed the village of about 100 people, which is some 215 miles west of Vienna, will be known as Fugging starting January 1, 2021. Not everyone’s happy about the impending change.
- One person noted the old name was free publicity for the village, like when it became the backdrop for a book by an Austrian novelist, which was later turned into a film named Bad Fucking. A town with a funny name can really capitalize on it, maybe even win a bunch of Emmys. Just ask the people of Schitt’s Creek. (Guardian)
- Tongue-tied, brain fried? Why you lose words on the tip of your tongue (BBC)
- Can’t visit the dentist? Here’s how to take better care of your teeth (Guardian)
- What Ever Happened to the Vaping Lung Disease? (Gizmodo). Who’s blowing smoke?
- Camilla Pang: ‘You have to acknowledge the hilarity of what it is to be human’ (Guardian)
- Part human, part machine: is Apple turning us all into cyborgs? (Guardian). iPhone, emphasis on the ‘i”
- Facebook Struggles to Balance Civility and Growth & Facebook Ads Could Be Reaching Saturation Point (NYT, WSJ, $)
- How close are we to real-life ray guns? How The Once Elusive Dream Of Laser Weapons Suddenly Became A Reality (The Drive)
- The Myth of North America, in One Painting (NYT, $)
- Will the rich eat themselves? The Rich Kids Who Want to Tear Down Capitalism (NYT, $)
- Some Movies Actually Understand Poverty in America & Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix: Why does it feel so inauthentic? (NYT, Vox)
- As ‘Doonesbury’ turns 50, Garry Trudeau picks his 10 defining strips (WaPo, $)
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