In Mexico, drug traffickers infiltrate video game platforms to recruit young people

It was the Mexican Secretary of State for Security, Ricardo Mejia, who delivered this story to the media. Earlier this month, in the state of Oaxaca (southern Mexico), three young people aged 11 to 14 were enlisted by a criminal group. Their mission: to be the lookouts – in the jargon, “to be a hawk” – in other words to monitor the radio frequencies, or to position themselves in a specific sector and to alert in the event of police presence for a salary of approximately 350 euros.

These three minors, who were first reported missing, were taken in by a woman near a bus station. This woman has since been arrested. Recruitment took place far from the eyes of parents. A first boy was contacted via the messaging service of the mobile phone game “Free Fire”, an online game that has tens of millions of users around the world. The principle is simple: up to 50 players in an arena. You have to kill the other participants, be the survivor. Between two virtual shots, the alleged tout was able to exchange with this young player, “start the persuasion process” indicates the Mexican authorities. The miner accepted the offer he shared with two school friends.

The Mexican government’s warning is not limited to this particular game. We can cite GTA, Fortnite, for example. Wildly successful games popular with young people. “Playstation, X box, Nintendo games”, says the Mexican Secretary of State for Security. The traffickers are lodged everywhere, according to Ricardo Mejia, the criminals spot the profiles of players addicted to adrenaline. They send messages at dawn to bypass parental supervision, everything is obviously anonymous. The delinquents hide behind pseudonyms. A nickname in particular: “CJNG”. An acronym which is not trivial which refers to the “Cartel jalisco nueva generacion”, a formidable cartel, one of the most dangerous in the world and the best armed in Mexico according to the US Department of Justice. This cartel wants to reach out to young people by posting images and “liked” videos on Instagram or TikTok hundreds of thousands of times. We see guns, bundles of cash, luxury cars and sometimes drugs of course. Often with a soundtrack anything but anxiety. You can find best-of of these videos quite easily on YouTube. Experts have found the appropriate term: narco-marketing.

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Redim, the network for children’s rights in Mexico, estimated in September that 145,000 to 250,000 children in the country are at risk of being recruited by criminal groups. Corn in a press release, the organization specifies that: “video games, digital platforms are not responsible”. “Banning video games is a false solution”, believes the Redim which asks the government “a global prevention strategy”, and insists on “social inequalities” that make these young people vulnerable to traffickers.

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