Activists rush to defend Mexico's Twitter 'terrorists'

Mexico's Twitter 'terrorists,' two citizens who made mistaken online posts about school shootings, could face 30 years in prison. A boon for organized crime?

The government of Veracruz has arrested two citizens who posted incorrect information on Twitter and Facebook regarding potential school shootings (LA Times, BBC, RSF). They face "terrorism" charges that carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of two years' salary.

Those are absurd charges, and the fact these citizens are held without trial for something they posted online is a very troubling violation of free speech rights in Mexico. The government of Veracruz hopes to make an example of these Twitter and Facebook users, which will cause other citizens to self-censor when they use the social networks.

Blogs and social media have become a rare outlet for free speech in a country where traditional media journalists have been violently targeted by criminal groups. It's how many citizens receive information about the ongoing conflict given the lack of accurate information from the traditional media and the government. If the government now prosecutes citizen journalists, they threaten to shut down an area of transparency.

The Mexican government needs a U-turn on this prosecution. They should not only release the citizens under arrest. They should encourage the use of social media to report on situations of violence and corruption and look for mechanisms to help correct or verify when bad or uncertain information appears on those networks.

Censorship, such as this prosecution, will only benefit organized crime, which thrives in situations without transparency. Blogs, Twitter, and other social networks are emerging forms of media that are still far from perfect, but in some regions, they are the best journalism Mexico has.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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