The recent arrest of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has thrown an international media spotlight on Mexican drug cartels and the acts of violence associated with them. What is less talked about, however, is how over the past decade increased access to the Internet, cellphones and other digital media have drastically changed the landscape of the so-called "drug war" in Mexico.
In Mexico, "narcomensajes" or narcomessages, are handwritten signs left by drug traffickers, often accompanied by gruesomely disfigured human remains. They have been used by traffickers, like Guzmán's Sinaloa cartel, since 2006, and typically are interpreted as ways for rival groups to "settle the score" or claim territory. From the moment of their first emergence, the narcomensajes and "narcovideos" were clearly intended for digital reproduction and transmission to YouTube and other platforms, thus bypassing the control of traditional media in a time when more and more Mexicans were using the Internet. Access to the Internet among Mexicans increased from 5 percent of the population in 2000 to 33 percent in 2010.