Drugs, Drinking and Social Media
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Drugs, Drinking and Social Media


This post was originally published on April 3, 2014.

News just keeps hitting the wires about how social media—Facebook in particular—is impacting the lives of addicts. Apparently, it influences the development of eating disorders and eradicates self-esteem. But for active addicts—or at least heavy users—boasting about skirting the law can get you busted.

Debauchery on Display

Take the case of a 19-year-old Florida woman who posted a pic of her infant appearing to be smoking out of a bong or the Ohio mom whose party pics of the teens drinking in her basement surfaced. The most recent example is a woman in Michigan who was on probation for drunk driving and bragged about passing a breathalyzer despite having been drinking. Still, examples like these are benign when you consider the fact that Facebook is now also being used to dramatically document the drug wars and, in a weird twist, to warn about the dangers of said documentation.

One of the more sensational examples took place in 2009, when Arturo Beltran Leyva, the leader of a violent drug organization in Mexico, was killed in a shootout. Traditional media reported the story but much of that reportage was done through the filter of both Facebook and Twitter. It seems the Mexican government had organized the shootout with the assistant of their Marines and almost immediately tweeted a photo of Beltran’s dead body, says Paul Eiss, a historian and anthropologist in the journal Latin American Perspectives: “Someone…rearranged [Beltran’s] body, pulling his pants down and placing his body in a splayed position.” Images like this had been circulated before but as access to the web has increased for Mexicans over the last decade, the practice has skyrocketed.

And it wasn’t left there: Within a week of Beltran’s death, family members of a marine killed in the shootout were also gunned down. A fire was set at a local school where a banner had been placed warning the government to stay out of cartel actions. Photos of the banner and the flames were tweeted and subsequently shared in status updates.

The Perfect Medium for Spreading Anger and Fear

This is ugly but not surprising. Social media was made for images and to get messages across. John Gibler, the author of To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War, says, “Illicit industries are…using social media in their own ways, to spread fear, and command respect and control.” But this gets terrifying when normal social media using citizens get caught in the fire. Boingboing.net has written about the murders of two people in Mexico: social media users in their 20’s who had “snitched” on the drug cartels simply by denouncing them online. It’s not just journalists, members of the government or cartel criminals who are being killed—yes, people can die for posting opinions.

Social Stupidity

Or, back here in the US, they can go to jail for the simple crime of being dumbasses. Well, really for addictive behavior and violating probation—but with dumbassery bringing it all to light. Colleen Cudney, the woman in Michigan on probation for a DUI, got in trouble for posting on Facebook: “Buzz Killer for me. I had to breathalyze (sic) this morning and I drank yesterday but I passed thank god lol my dumba@@.” A local cop saw the post, told the probation office and Cudney might end up in jail for 93 days.

All in all, social media’s ability to make this a small, small world is its charm but also its danger. And if people don’t know the power of their own posts, they can be sure that someone else does.

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About Author

Dana Burnell has written for The London Times Sunday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Inside New York and Time Out New York. A former Editorial Assistant at Harvard Review, she’s the received Mellon Foundation Grant and two Fiction Fellowship Grants from Columbia University. She’s written two novels, Mistaken Nonentity and The Tame Man.