Spanberger bill aims to combat cartel online recruitment

  • Cartels use social media to lure recruits to help smuggle people to the US
  • Requirement: DHS portal for social companies to report smuggling activity
  • Social media companies say they use technology to filter suspicious posts

(NewsNation) — U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) has introduced a bill to crack down on Mexican drug cartels using social media platforms as a tool to recruit human smugglers.

Oftentimes, those calls to action draw those desperate for money, duped into thinking they found legitimate work or actively seeking out cartel labor.

“In this gig economy, people will put out ads asking for somebody to drive from point A to point B, and in the vast majority of the circumstances, the people are tricked. They think that they’re helping someone out, they think that they’re making some money on the side,” Spanberger told NewsNation.

Neither federal governments nor social media giants have delivered a solution that fully stops these solicitations, according to experts who have studied cartels, until now.

The Combating Cartels on Social Media Act would require the Department of Homeland Security to build a portal for social media companies to report human smuggling recruitment activities and drug trafficking along the border.

“It would require DHS to set up a portal so that there can be a partnership between social media companies that really are endeavoring to recognize the potential threats that exist here, report that to DHS, and then from there, federal investigations can begin,” Spanberger explained.

Spanberger said through this “bipartisan, bicameral legislation,” their objective is to ensure social media companies have a role in this crackdown.

“We have seen that social media companies have been pretty forward-leaning, have been good about detecting and taking down posts when they realize what it is, but there’s no mechanism by which they can really push those on aggressively to the hands of law enforcement,” she said.

As the U.S. toughens its stance on border security, more opportunities arise for Americans to work with the cartels, Jones said. More money spent on U.S. border security in turn drives up the price to be smuggled and makes the operations more complex, thus the need for more U.S.-side couriers grows.

Social media companies say they use technology to filter out suspicious posts. A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said the company works with law enforcement. The sites also remove content “seeking cross-border smuggling services” and offer information about the risks of engaging with smugglers. It also provides information about asylum, the spokesperson said.

Federal officials have complained tech giants from YouTube to Meta want it both ways: posting terms of service that ban illegal activities but still making money off ads paid for by the cartels.

NewsNation’s Katie Smith contributed to this report.


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