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Brazil’s Prisoners Are Coordinating Riots On Smuggled Cell Phones

"The communication of violence has become as important as the violence itself.”

In the first three weeks of 2017, over 100 inmates were butchered in Brazilian jails, several of them decapitated, charred or dismembered in a series of riots that have threatened to destabilize the country's penal system. Brazil's two largest drug trafficking gangs are warring for territorial control in a fight playing out inside the country's overcrowded prisons. But unlike narco wars of the past, everyday Brazilians now have a window to watch these gruesome murders up close on their cell phones. Within hours of the bloodiest slaughter yet, a 17-hour rebellion in an Amazonian jail that killed 60 people, footage of the decapitated bodies circulated on social media. DVDs of the massacre, available on the streets for $1 a pop, sold out nationwide. Smuggled cell phones have long been a tool for inmates to control gang activities inside prison walls. And having proliferated inside Brazil's prison system they're allowing a critical mass of inmates the means to orchestrate mass attacks on rival gangs and control drug trafficking from behind bars. But the rise of social media has given gangs a direct line of communication to their rivals, affiliates in other states, and the communities they control. Photos of blood pooling in prison corridors and stacks of corpses piled high in the aftermath of recent riots sent an incontestable message of power to their audience. Read more on Motherboard