A MAN AND woman in Mexico face up to 30 years in prison for causing chaos in the city of Veracruz by sending out false information on social media sites about shooting attacks on local schools.
The pair has been jailed by the government in the Veracruz state on charges of terrorism and sabotage after they posted warnings that there were gunmen on the loose at certain schools in the area.
They used both Twitter and Facebook to spread the rumours, according to the LA Times.
Prosecutors have argued that the defendants caused chaos, including 26 car crashes, in the city because of the tweets and Facebook postings. One government official likened the panic to that caused by Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcasts.
Gerardo Buganza said the fear roused by that broadcast about a Martian invasion of New Jersey was “small compared to what happened here”.
However, human rights groups have spoken out against the detentions. Amnesty International has said Mexican officials are violating freedom of expression and blamed the panic on the uncertainty many Mexicans feel amid drug wars which have seen more than 35,000 people die in the past five years.
The tweets were sent out just weeks after drug-related gun battles broke out on the city’s streets.
Gilberto Martinez Vera, a tutor in a private school, sent out his first tweet on August 25. It said:
My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school.
Lawyers for Martinez Vera have claimed that he was just relaying messages he had heard and never claimed to have firsthand knowledge of the alleged incident.
His next tweet said, “I don’t know what time it happened, but it’s true.”
The woman charged in the case, Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, also claims she was just relaying messages on her Facebook account.
Her Twitter account @MARUCHIBRAVO seems to have had no activity since August 22.
However, her Facebook page now features the Twitter logo, a little bluebird, blindfolded and standing in front of the scales of justice, with the slogan “I too am a TwitTerrorist.”
Despite protestations from Twitter users using the #VerFollow hashtag, the pair could face 30 years in prison.
After the incident, Governor Javier Duarte sent out his own tweet to highlight the local government’s stance on the case:
I am a Tweeter by heart, I am in favour of freedom of speech but I also defend our right to live in tranquility and peace.
-Additional reporting by AP