According to the UK Guardian, two people have been arrested in Mexico for spreading incorrect information over the Twitter messaging service. Local officials intend to prosecute the accused man and woman under the country’s terrorism laws, meaning the pair could face up to 30 years in prison.
The arrests stemmed from rumors of a school in Veracruz being stormed by gunmen which were tweeted by school teacher Gilberto Martinez Vera and radio personality Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola. These rumors were taken as fact by a nervous populous, and led to a reported 26 car accidents as concerned parents rushed to schools in order to protect their children from imaginary dangers. Emergency phonelines apparently became paralyzed under the sheer bulk of calls concerning the false gunmen.
What’s still unclear where the rumors originated from. In the case of Vera, one tweet was reported to have read “My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school.” Both Vera and Pagola insist that they simply reiterated rumors already circling online which they believed were true.
Several observers to the case have weighed in on the suit as an unnecessary use of Mexico’s terrorism laws. Amnesty International, as quoted by the UK Guardian, places the blame not on social network users but on the general atmosphere of fear in the region following a massive upswing in drug-related violence over the past five years. A statement from Amnesty International read:
The lack of safety creates an atmosphere of mistrust in which rumours that circulate on social networks are part of people’s efforts to protect themselves, since there is very little trustworthy information.
While Vera and Pagola certainly did spread false information, a lack of malicious intent would seem to make their crimes far less deserving of a 30 year prison sentence. In fact, if the information were repeated in good faith it was an attempt to prevent terrorism. Of course, establishing the intent of the messages will be a tough job for both the prosecution and the defense in this case.
With tensions over the use of social media related to riots like those seen in the UK and Canada, this recent case will certainly raise some eyebrows.
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