Short Take: Should Mexico Enjoy Section 230?

In the ever-shifting sands of trying to sanitize the interwebs for the same of the children, an interesting argument has arisen to eviscerate the Section 230 Safe Harbor of the Communications Decency Act: Mexican drug cartels.

Much like Hollywood celebrities, Mexican cartels have vast social media followings. The notorious Sinaloa Cartel has more than 88,000 followers on Twitter, for example, while Los Zetas, an uber-violent Mexican cartel that has broadcast murders on YouTube, has a Facebook universe with approximately 47,000 connected accounts like these.

To some extent, young, net-savvy criminals are using social media the same way as young people everywhere: to document and brag about their lives. Instagram and Twitter posts featuring cash, gold plated guns, luxury cars and even pet tigers are a powerful lure for jobless young men who see the gangster life as a path out of drudgery.

Are you shocked that drug cartels have twitter accounts? They can afford computers, keyboards and wifi (pronounced “weefee”), so there’s no impediment on that end. But why does twitter allow the Sinaloa Cartel to use its platform? Beats me. That’s a question for twitter, as twitter is a private company and can terminate the account any damn time it wants, like it does with anyone who twits that biology distinguishes sexes.

And it’s not as if these accounts aren’t, or can’t be, used for bad purposes.

Activities in cyberspace drive violence in real life. In one horrifying 2014 event, a Mexican physician who often tweeted about the drug war was herself murdered, with her killers using her own Twitter account to announce her death and broadcast grisly images of her dead body. This violence has often spilled into the United States, in particular with MS-13 using the internet to identify victims, and lure them to their death.

For reasons known only to Jack Dorsey, the twitter police have chosen not to terminate the cartel’s account, and so the syllogism* kicks in.

Despite the fact that bipartisan teams in Congress are trying to address this problem by reforming the laws governing tech, the U.S. Trade Representative has written this immunity into section 19.17 of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, which would, in effect, make it harder for Congress to reform the law.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have smartly called for that language to be stripped from USMCA and from future trade agreements. There’s still time for the Senate to amend the trade deal, which the House passed in December.

Mind you, the extension of the Safe Harbor to Mexico in the USMCA protects all Mexican voices, not just the cartel. But it also protects the cartel, along with other voices, and like the arguments made by unduly passionate advocates, that means the bad guys get the benefit along with the good guys.

Banks are liable for monitoring their platforms for dirty money. Firms must comply with laws banning them from selling sensitive equipment to criminals and terrorists. So why should tech firms be given a pass for facilitating the vile activities of violent gangs and cartels?

If this seems eerily reminiscent of the nonsensical arguments Mary Anne Franks makes to rationalize criminalizing revenge porn, that HIPAA prevents docs from revealing patient information so the First Amendment is a sham, it is. The banking industry is regulated  by the government, and so the regulations include a reporting requirement for unusual currency transactions.

There’s no free speech involved at all, but more than that, it’s a condition of running a business subject to regulation. Same with physicians and HIPAA. I’m not a doc, and I can spill your medical info anywhere I want. It only applies to docs because they’re licensed, not because the First Amendment is a sham.

That there is bipartisan support for removing the safe harbor from the USMCA is hardly surprising. Nobody in government likes the fact that they can’t censor whatever they want to censor, even if the two sides want to censor very different things to clean up the internet. And who wants to come out in support of a Mexican drug cartel’s right to use twitter to threaten to kill its enemies or offer enticing employment opportunities to young men seeking the gangster life?

*Something must be done.
This is something.
This must be done.

12 thoughts on “Short Take: Should Mexico Enjoy Section 230?

  1. Raccoon Strait

    Your confusing me. Isn’t Section 230 about protecting the platform, not the user? If someone says something defamatory on social media, that someone is still liable for that defamation, but the social media platform isn’t.

    “But it also protects the cartel, along with other voices, and like the arguments made by unduly passionate advocates, that means the bad guys get the benefit along with the good guys.”

    For Section 230 like safe harbors, the protection is for the platform, not the users/cartels. The cartels benefit by the lack of action by the platform owners, and since these services are free to the users, as the argument goes, the users are the product.

    This sounds like it would be better dealt with in a PR sense, where platforms are publicly shamed by their associations with cartels and/or cartel like behaviors of their users, and to be effective that shaming probably shouldn’t come from politicians. Let the businesses take responsibility for their own lack of action.

    1. SHG Post author

      I failed to be clear enough, assuming that readers would be sufficiently able to appreciate the legal implications. It protects the user by not permitting governmental coercion to compel platforms to censor users, but leave it to platforms to do whatever they choose to do.

  2. Patrick Maupin

    So, what you’re saying is that the government should start licensing web sites.

    (Cue Jordan Peterson meme poster…)

  3. Kathryn Kase

    One wishes one could say, “Boy, wait’ll the government finds out that bad people use the US Postal Service to say bad things in letters…”, but then one would have to explain what the USPS is, as well as what a letter is.

  4. Richard Kopf


    Perhaps I am credulous, but banning the Sinaloa cartel would deprive the world of expressions approaching the poetic. Take this example from Ovidio Guzmán López*, one of the sons of the big guy, “I not am of luxuries and neither of sports cars , and I like the horses and fine roosters , always with one and another I will walk.” A misunderstood man slowly walking with horses and roosters as the sun rises over the Mexican mountains casting a dappled light on the assemblage is an image I bet you and your readers will not soon forget.

    All the best.


    * He is known affectionately as the “mouse.” Sometimes he roars.

    Based on a US warrant, Guzmán López was briefly arrested in Culiacán, Sinaloa, by members of the Mexican National Guard on October 17, 2019, setting off several gun battles in the city. Cartel gunmen threatened mass civilian deaths, including an attack to the apartment complex housing the relatives of the local military personnel. Hours later, Ovidio Guzmán was freed.

  5. B. Mcleod

    It really serves to show what a laughable pile of shit the word-and-thought police are that they let this kind of stuff go, while spending their time banning users for “dead-naming” [Ed. Notes] or using pronouns-not-of-choice.

  6. Hunting Guy

    If you throw the bad guys off social media you deprive law enforcement of a prime source of intelligence.

    It would pay to think this through.

  7. Scarlet Pimpernel

    Dear Ms. Garcia and Mr. Maltz,
    Having thoroughly reviewed your article publish on January 10th 2020 on the Daily News website, it has been found that describing Mexicans as criminals undeserving on the same rights and protections as their U.S. counterparts to be racist and a violation of the Internet Terms of Services barring promoting discrimination against a protected class.
    As this is your first offense you will both receive a 1 week time out and will be blocked from accessing the internet. Please take this time to thoroughly review the relevant sections of the Internet Terms of Service covering discrimination and hate speech. Subsequent actions of the type you have been found to have committed will result in increasingly severe penalties, up to and including permanent suspension from the internet.

    Scarlet Pimpernel
    Acting Directo of the United States Office of Internet Safety

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