Think before you tweet, otherwise you might just land in a jail. A man and a woman in Mexico are facing 30-year prison terms for misusing Twitter to spread panic over a series of child kidnappings. Gilberto Martinez Vera, a private school teacher, and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, a radio presenter, were accused of spreading false reports that gunmen were attacking schools in the south-eastern city of Veracruz, reports the Associated Press.
The panic created by the duo, incited complete chaos and confusion in the city, including numerous car crashes as parents rushed to the schools to save their kids. The emergency telephone lines jammed and totally collapsed under the pressure.
“There were 26 car accidents, or people left their cars in the middle of the streets to run and pick up their children, because they thought these things were occurring at their kids’ schools,” said Gerardo Buganza, the interior secretary for Veracruz state, who compared the ensuing chaos to Orson Welles’s spoof news broadcast War of the Worlds in 1938.
According to the prosecutors, Vera posted numerous messages on Twitter saying gunmen were kidnapping children from schools. In one of the tweets he stated,”My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school.” Other tweets included story about six teenagers who were run over in one neighbourhood. Pagola also faces similar charges of spreading false reports of terrorist attacks.
“The terrorism charge is unwarranted, but the case is a very incautious use of Twitter. The site has been used by drug traffickers to create panic with false warnings. In one case, a wave of messages about impending violence shut down schools, bars and restaurants in the central city of Cuernavaca last year,’ said Raul Trejo, an expert on media and violence at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
“These Twitter users had accounts with a few hundred followers. If these lies grew, it is not so much because they propagated them, but because in Veracruz as in most of the rest of the country, there is such a lack of public safety that the public is inclined to believe unconfirmed acts of violence. The government doesn’t make clear what is happening, “adds Trejo.
Twitter has been used in spreading important news and warning people about impending dangers. Considering Twitter’s indispensable role in providing support during emergencies, some nasty tweeters seem to be using the site to gain quick publicity and to spread unnecessary chaos in the world. It’s important that Twitter users discern false rumors from genuine news and avoid blindly believing everything that they see trending on Twitter.