NEWSNATION, KATIE SMITH
Bills seeking to stop cartel activity on social media are gaining bipartisan support in the House and Senate.
This week, the Homeland Security Committee approved legislation that was introduced earlier this year by Independent Arizona Sen. Krysten Sinema and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. The Combatting Cartels on Social Media Act proposed law would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to analyze cartels’ social media use and create pathways for technology companies to report to cartel recruitment efforts in the United States.
The bill and its companion legislation in Congress have garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans concerned with cartels’ online presence.
Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester said the bill will make it harder for bad actors to grow their operations online and “prey on vulnerable social media users.”
“The fentanyl crisis is a serious issue facing Montana communities,” Tester said. “Targeting the cartels’ recruitment tactics is one of the most effective ways to reduce illicit fentanyl trafficking and make sure these lethal drugs don’t make it across our southern border.”
Americans often play a role in trafficking migrants into the United States for the cartel. Some who have been caught on smuggling runs told officials they found the gigs on social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Telegram.
The callouts might include photos of a person hoping to cross the southern border, their asylum status, a drop-off location and a price tag for the operation, Texas A&M Assistant Professor Nilda Garcia previously told NewsNation. Garcia wrote the article “Mexico’s Drug War and Criminal Networks: The Dark Side of Social Media.”
Those calls to action tend to appeal to Americans who aren’t in a position to turn down extra cash, are tricked into thinking they found legitimate work, or actively seeking out cartel labor.
That’s why U.S. Representatives Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., introduced their companion bill in March, citing similar concerns about cartels’ online recruitment efforts.
“The cartels view social media as the latest recruitment ground for their criminal enterprises,” Spanberger said. “We need to do more to prevent Americans from being forced or tricked into helping the cartels.”
Those concerns were validated during a recent Energy and Commerce Committee field hearing in McAllen Texas, where National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd said cartels use social media to advertise illegal services, Burgess told NewsNation.
“The cartels are luring American teens to join them in smuggling and sometimes trafficking immigrants in the U.S. These actions endanger the lives of these teens, every American, and even those who are being trafficked,” Burgess said. “It is important that we pass this bipartisan and bicameral legislation to help secure our border and hold social media companies accountable for their participation in our current border crisis.”
Social media companies say they use technology to filter out suspicious posts.
A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, also said the company works with law enforcement and removes content “seeking cross-border smuggling services.” They also offer information about the risks of engaging with smugglers. It also provides information about asylum, the spokesperson said, the spokesperson told NewsNation in a February statement.
Advocates for legislative change, however, say posts still slip through the cracks, even when they violate community guidelines.
“The largest social media companies pick and choose which illegal activities they like and which they do not like, and clearly, they like people illegally crossing the US border,” Lankford said in an official statement.
Another organization, the Alliance to Counter Crime Online, advocates another solution: reforming a 1996 law called the Communications Decency Act.
The group is calling on Congress to strip out immunities for hosting illicit content and provide victims of drug cartel and gang violence a path to justice if they are harmed online.
The organization could not immediately be reached for comment.