A teacher and a radio presenter in Mexico are facing up to 30 years in jail for spreading false rumors on Twitter that gunmen were kidnapping children from local schools.
“My sister-in-law just called me all upset, they just kidnapped five children from the school,” read one of the tweets.
Maths tutor Gilberto Martinez Vera, 48, and presenter Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola are said to have caused a mass panic, with cars crashing as parents rushed to rescue their kids. Emergency phone lines were jammed across Veracruz.
The reports seemed plausible enough at the time, as the city is known for kidnappings and drug-related violence.
“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,” Gerardo Buganza, the interior secretary for Veracruz state, told the Associated Press.
He compared the mass panic to that caused by the 1938 broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, which convinced many that an alien invasion was taking place.
The pair, who face charges under the country’s terrorism laws, say they were simply retweeting messages they’d seen elsewhere.
The case is reminiscent of that of Paul Chambers, who joked on Twitter about blowing up a British airport when it was closed by poor weather. He, though, faced only a £1,000 fine and the loss of his job as a financial controller.