If there was ever a question about whether or not Twitter’s social networking service has the power to act as a conduit for real-world results, this is it. Just a few days ago, on August 25th to be exact, two individuals in Mexico, a mister Gilberto Martinez Vera and a miss Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, Tweeted what turned out to be false information on their Twitter accounts about both shootouts and kidnappings near schools in Veracruz. What resulted was 26 total car accidents, people running through the streets, and emergency numbers “totally collapsed” under traffic in the area from concerned callers.
From what the two defendants in this newly minted case say, they were only acting on what they’d been told and what they’d heard from other sources – authorities they say therefor acting outrageously in the face of what they’re calling simple repeats (or in this case re-tweets) of information. Vera noted that he was sending out information that had been confirmed by his sister-in-law who had children that attended the school, while Pagola said she’d only been re-posting what she’d seen already posted on social networks earlier that day.
“How can they possibly do this to me, for re-tweeting a message? I mean, it’s 140 characters. It’s not logical.” – Pagola, quoted by her defense lawyer Claribel Guevara.
Veracruz state interior secretary Gerardo Buganza noted the results of the Tweets, those being people stopping their cars in the middle of the road to run and make sure their children weren’t harmed, car crashes, and what he said was panic which made Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” seem small in comparison. For those of you unaware, said radio broadcast actually caused quite a ruckus in 1938 as the broadcast made it seem as though there were an alien invasion, citizens listening in and panicking to the point of jumping in their cars and heading for the mountains for safety, if you know what I mean.
Both Vera and Pagola have been arrested and according to President Felipe Calderon, their actions are being treated as acts of terrorism. They could therefor face up to 30 years in prison if given a maximum sentence. Both Vera, a 48-year-old former school teacher who lives in the eastern state of Veracruz, and Pagola, a radio commentator and former government official, contend that not only were they only repeating what they’d heard from a separate source, but supporters for their release note that there’d already been weeks of gun battles in the area between drug traffickers and that on the same day as the incident, residents were seeing armed convoys of marines gathering in the streets, leading to rumors of possible incidents.
Vera’s original tweet read as follows:
“I can confirm this, at the Jorge Arroyo school in the Carranza district, five children have been taken away by an armed group. Total psychosis in the area.” – Vera
Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte de Ochoa noted the following in a statement:
“The punishment for those who caused damages is not because they are Twitter users, but for the consequences that their irresponsible acts provoked” – Ochoa
Finally Amnesty International wrote the following:
“The lack of safety creates an atmosphere of mistrust in which rumors that circulate on social networks are part of people’s efforts to protect themselves, since there is very little trustworthy information” – Amnesty International
What do you think? Is even re-tweeting information that could potentially lead to a riot worthy of punishment equitable to actually intentionally starting a riot? That said, with the information you’ve got here, do you think these two citizens intended to cause chaos? And what does this say about the current state of Social Networking?