Mexicans Tweet About Child Kidnapping at School; Face Jail

(Original story at Chron here.)

This story happened before The Onion’s fake Twitter posts about a hostage situation in the Capitol, but it serves to remind us that there are limits to freedom of speech in different jurisdictions.

2 Mexicans deny terrorism, face 30 years for tweet

MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press
Updated 02:47 p.m., Sunday, September 4, 2011

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Think before you tweet.

A former teacher turned radio commentator and a math tutor who lives with his mother sit in a prison in southern Mexico, facing possible 30-year sentences for terrorism and sabotage in what may be the most serious charges ever brought against anyone using a Twitter social network account.

Prosecutors say the defendants helped cause a chaos of car crashes and panic as parents in the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz rushed to save their children because of false reports that gunmen were attacking schools.

Gerardo Buganza, interior secretary for Veracruz state, compared the panic to that caused by Orson Welles‘ 1938 radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” But he said the fear roused by that account of a Martian invasion of New Jersey “was small compared to what happened here.”

“Here, 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,” Buganza told local reporters.

The charges say the messages caused such panic that emergency numbers “totally collapsed because people were terrified,” damaging service for real emergencies.

Veracruz, the state’s largest city, and the neighboring suburb of Boca del Rio were already on edge after weeks of gunbattles involving drug traffickers. One attack occurred on a major boulevard. In another, gunmen tossed a grenade outside the city aquarium, killing an tourist and seriously wounding his wife and their two young children.

On Aug. 25, nerves were further frayed when residents saw armed convoys of marines circulating on the streets, making some think a confrontation with gangs was imminent.

That is when Gilberto Martinez Vera, who works as a low-paid tutor at several private schools, allegedly opened the floodgates of fear with repeated messages that gunmen were taking children from schools.

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

In fact, no such kidnappings occurred that day. Defense lawyer Claribel Guevara said the rumors already had started and that Martinez Vera was just relaying what others told him. She said he never claimed to have firsthand knowledge of the incident.

But in a subsequent tweet about the kidnap rumor, he said, “I don’t know what time it happened, but it’s true.” He also tweeted that three days earlier, “they mowed down six kids between 13 and 15 in the Hidalgo neighborhood.” While a similar attack occurred, it didn’t involve children.

Prosecutors say the rumors were also sent by Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola, who has worked as a teacher, a state arts official and a radio commentator. She says she was just relaying such messages to her own Twitter followers.

“How can they possibly do this to me, for re-tweeting a message? I mean, it’s 140 characters. It’s not logical,'” said Guevara, quoting her client.

Better known on the radio and social networks as “Maruchi,” her Facebook site now features the Twitter logo, a little bluebird, blindfolded and standing in front of the scales of justice, with the slogan “I too am a TwitTerrorist.”

Online petitions are circulating to demand her release, and the pair’s cause has been taken up by human rights groups that call the charges exaggerated. Amnesty International says officials are violating freedom of expression and it blames the panic on the uncertainty many Mexicans feel amid a drug war in which more than 35,000 people have died over the past five years.

“The lack of safety creates an atmosphere of mistrust in which rumors that circulate on social networks are part of people’s efforts to protect themselves, since there is very little trustworthy information,” Amnesty wrote in a statement on the case.

In violence-wracked cities in the northern state of Tamaulipas, citizens and even authorities have used Twitter and Facebook to warn one another about shootouts.

Anita Vera, Martinez Vera’s 71-year-old mother, said her 48-year-old son still lives at her house with his girlfriend. She said he told her that had posted his messages after the panic had already started.

“He told me “Mom, I didn’t start any of this, I just transmitted what I was told,'” Vera Martellis said after visiting her son in prison.

“He used the computer, but I swear that my son never wanted to do anybody harm, or start a revolution, like they say he did,” said Vera, who ekes out a living selling flowers.

Raul Trejo, an expert on media and violence at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the terrorism charge is unwarranted, but described the case as “a very incautious use of Twitter.”

He noted that in Mexico, “Twitter has been used by drug traffickers to create panic with false warnings.” In one case, a wave of messages about impending violence shut down schools, bars and restaurants in the central city of Cuernavaca last year.

Trejo said Twitter users must learn “not to believe everything, and simply take the Twitter messages as an indication that some (report) is making the rounds.”

But the real problem appears to be that governments cannot prevent drug cartel violence or even accurately inform citizens about it. Local news media are often so battered by kidnappings and killings of reporters that, in many states, they are loath to report about it.

“These Twitter users had accounts with a few hundred followers,” Trejo noted. “If these lies grew, it is not so much because they propagated them, but because in Veracruz as in most of the rest of the country, there is such a lack of public safety that the public is inclined to believe unconfirmed acts of violence … The government doesn’t make clear what is happening.”

Defense attorneys also say their clients were held incommunicado for almost three days, unable to see a lawyer.

It appears one of the most serious sets of charges ever brought for sending or resending Twitter messages.

Tweeter Paul Chambers was fined 385 pounds and ordered to pay 2,000 pounds ($3,225) in prosecution costs last year for tweeting that if northern England’s Robin Hood Airport didn’t reopen in time for his flight, “I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Venezuelan authorities last year charged two people with spreading false information about the country’s banking system using Twitter and urging people to pull money out of banks. They could serve nine to 11 years in prison if convicted.

In 2009, a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year in a labor camp for posting a satirical Twitter message about the Japan pavilion at the Shanghai Expo.

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Man Pretends to be His Boss on Facebook; Arrested

(Original article at Switched here.)

Imagine asking a friend or acquaintance to find you on Facebook using your first and last name because “it’s not going to be difficult to find me,” only to have him/her come back to you to ask why you posted what you posted on your profile (when you do not remember anything of that sort); why you have not accepted his/her friend request (you did not receive it); or which [insert first and last name] in [insert name of city here] you are.

Any of the above situations are likely to happen if your name is really common where you live, or worse, or if someone is impersonating you on Facebook.

The point is that it would not be long before your victim finds out about the impersonation, unless of course your victim does not use Facebook.

This is an old one and I cannot find updates on the case, but in many jurisdictions, it is a crime to impersonate elected officials, bureaucrats or a military serviceman. This might have been a prank to get back at his boss, but even if Lacroix did not get charged with a crime, he was unlikely to get away with the incident at work.

Prison Guard Arrested for Posing as His Boss on Facebook

by Amar Toor on December 20, 2010 at 03:50 PM

A prison guard in Rhode Island has been arrested after he admitted to posing as his boss on Facebook. The guard, 27-year-old Matthew Lacroix, reportedly created the fake profile using a computer at his neighbor’s house. Authorities first discovered the page in August, and eventually tracked the IP address to the home. Eventually, Lacroix pleaded guilty to “use of fraudulent information,” and had to pay $500 to the state’s Victims Indemnity Fund. Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institutions has since placed Lacroix on paid leave, pending the results of a forthcoming hearing.

Investigators say Lacroix enjoyed a friendly relationship with his neighbors, but insist that they weren’t privy to his Facebook fraud. “The couple living there knew nothing about it, but in the course of the conversation, they mentioned that their neighbor was a corrections employee,” police Capt. James Demers told the Providence Journal.

“Detectives went next door and Lacroix initially denied having anything to do with the page but later admitted it because he did not want to get his neighbors in trouble.” His boss, Department of Corrections head A.T. Wall, did not comment on the arrest, but spokeswoman Tracey E. Zeckhausen said that he was concerned “that someone would do this.”

Authorities haven’t elaborated on the information that Lacroix posted on the fraudulent page, nor have they determined whether it was an isolated incident, or part of a larger scheme. Further investigation will determine Lacroix’s ultimate fate, and may shed some light on why he decided to create the page in the first place. Either way, though, it’s pretty clear that it wasn’t the wisest of decisions.

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Man Hacks Into Women’s Facebook Accounts, Sends Nude Photos and Videos

(Original story at Boston.com here.)

While this story is about a creep who hacked into others’ Facebook accounts and got jailed for it (among other offenses), this is a good reminder to Facebook users that as Facebook shares more and more about our lives online publicly, other aspects of our online lives will get less and less secure.

The article does not address the issue of how the women’s lives were affected by Bronk’s despicable actions, but could you imagine the humiliation that they faced after their friends and relatives found out that they had taken nude photos and videos of themselves? Would those pictures and videos find their way onto certain blogs or websites?

Facebook stalker gets 4 years for cyber offenses

July 23, 2011|Associated Press

SACRAMENTO – A California man who trolled women’s Facebook pages searching for clues that allowed him to take over their e-mail accounts was sentenced yesterday to more than four years in state prison after a judge rejected a plea for a lighter sentence and likened the man to a peeping Tom.

Once he took over women’s e-mail accounts, George Bronk searched their folders for nude or seminude photographs or videos sent to their husbands or boyfriends and distributed the images to their contact list, prosecutors said.

The e-mails went to families, friends, and co-workers. Women in 17 states, the District of Columbia, and England were victimized.

“This case serves as a stark example of what occurs in so-called cyberspace. It has very real consequences,’’ Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown said. “The intrusion of one’s profile is no different than intruding one’s home.’’

Bronk, 23, pleaded guilty in January to charges that included computer intrusion, false impersonation, and possession of child pornography.

Brown sentenced him to four years in state prison for the charges related to the Facebook and e-mail offenses, and added eight more months for charges related to child pornography.

Bronk’s attorney, Monica Lynch, said her client took responsibility for his actions and showed remorse. She had sought a sentence of one year in local jail with probation afterward, or two years in state prison with no probation.

Bronk was living in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights with his parents in December 2009 when he began scanning Facebook with the intent of taking over e-mail accounts. The practice continued until last September.

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