A few months ago, I wrote about the Coahuila government’s attempts to censor and punish people who use social network media –Twitter, Facebook and text-messages — to create chaos and panic among the population.
At that time, Coahuila’s authorities were trying to stop people who were using social media to alert citizens about shootings and several other violent incidents happening around the cities. Apparently the authorities’ efforts were not successful because of many legal complications. After all, how could they stop people from using social media? How could they regulate their use?
But now, six months later, other local Mexican governments are trying to do the same and have even legally moved forward toward stopping social media.
Just last week, the government of Veracruz, in southeast Mexico, arrested, charged and imprisoned a man and a woman for “terrorist acts,” arguing that the two tweeted messages that were terrifying the population. The messages sent by these two individuals warned of shootings and other possible violence that would be supposedly perpetrated by Gulf Cartel members. As a result of the tweets, many scared parents picked up their children from school; stores shut down for a day and people were panic-stricken.
If the “tweeteros” are found guilty, they could face up to 30 years in prison!
In Tabasco, a southern Mexican state, legislators approved a bill this week to criminalize the use of Twitter and social networks to spread rumors or any information that creates chaos and fear. The measure would penalize anyone found guilty with up to six years in prison plus fines.
I’m wondering how much effort (and resources) the governments will put on pursuing the “tweeteros” instead of the real criminals responsible for the chaos and insecurity.
In fact, all the “noise” produced by social media is a consequence of the lack of official information. In Saltillo, the tweets increased along with rumors of shootings and confrontations, while no official information on the incidents was being made available. The same has happened in Tamaulipas, Ciudad Victoria, Monterrey and all of the places where there has been a vacuum of official and credible information.
Instead of finding short-term solutions that don’t really solve the problem, the governments should work on strategies to improve their communication with the public. If they do this, they could stand to regain the public’s confidence and their credibility. In an ideal situation, people will trust them and probably will stop tweeting rumors.