In 140 characters or less, you can put yourself in Mexican prison.
That’s what happened to a math tutor and a former teacher, after prosecutors say their tweets about a supposed school shooting helped cause mass confusion and a number of car accidents as parents tried to rush to the scene and retrieve their children.
The Associated Press reports that a tutor Gilberto Martinez Vera repeated rumors of kidnappings at local schools in the city of Veracruz on Aug. 25, saying on twitter “My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school.”
“Here, there were 26 car accidents,” Veracruz state interior secretary Gerardo Buganzaa told local reporters. “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 schools.”
Authorities say that because of recent drug-related gun battles in the city and surrounding area, residents were on edge. Charges in the case claim the erroneous twitter messages from Vera and a former teacher, Maria de Jesus Bravo, caused such panic that emergency phone lines collapsed under the volume of people desperate to get to their kids.
The defendants in the case — which could be a landmark for charges brought against people using the social media — say they were repeating things they heard from others, not purposefully trying to mislead anyone. Amnesty International says that the case could violate freedom of expression and blames two people for a larger problem: the uncertainty many Mexicans feel day to day from a drug war that has killed some 35,000 in five years.
“How can they possibly do this to me, for re-tweeting a message?” Bravo stated through her defense attorney. “I mean, its 140 characters. It’s not logical.”