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Twitter users charged with terrorism for false tweets

Mass panic over erroneous kidnap claims

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Mexican prosecutors are pursuing terrorism and sabotage charges against two Twitter users who falsely reported an armed attack by drug gangs was in progress at a local elementary school.

The tweets falsely claimed gunmen had stormed several schools in the Mexican state of Veracruz and either injured or kidnapped children. A Veracruz prosecutor compared public reaction to the series erroneous tweets to the mass panic that greeted Orson Wells's 1938 radio broadcast The War of the Worlds and claimed that it touched off 26 traffic accidents as parents rushed to schools to save their children.

The charges stem from tweets made on August 25 by math tutor Gilberto Martinez Vera, 47, and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, a 57-year-old journalist and radio commentator.

“My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school,” Martinez wrote in one tweet.

Three days earlier, "they mowed down six kids between 13 and 15 in the Hidalgo neighborhood,” he claimed in a separate dispatch. While a similar attack had occurred, it didn't involve children. Martinez had also claimed that kidnappers “took 5 kids, armed group, total psychosis in the zone.”

Over the past few years, Mexico's drug war has claimed more than 40,000 people, many of them civilians caught in crossfire, according to The Los Angeles Times. In mid August suspected cartel members tossed a grenade outside a Veracruz aquarium, killing a man and injuring a woman and two children.

With traditional media outlets reluctant to report on the violence for fear of reprisals, more and more Mexicans are turning to social media to exchange information about attacks, The Los Angeles Times said.

Attorneys for the the accused pair have criticized the charges because they carry a maximum of 30 years in prison.

“There was no intent on their part to generate this situation,” the attorney said. “They simply informed, incorrectly, but they informed.”

A state prosecutor warned that other “cyber terrorists” would also be investigated for allegedly “disinforming” the public.

The case brings to mind charges brought last year against a UK man after he tweeted his intention to bomb an airport if it didn't open in time for his scheduled flight. Paul Chambers was ultimately ordered to pay more than £2,000 despite his insistence the update was a joke.

More about the terrorism charges filed against the Mexican pair is here. ®

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