[Ed. note: A Mexican Twitter user was detained by the government last week, after he posted a tweet that referenced a recent helicopter crash that killed a top official. Below, guest contributor Wookie Williams in Mexico shares more.—Xeni Jardin]
"How many tweets does it take to bring down a plane?"
That was the joke yesterday, circulating around outside of the PGR offices in Mexico City where Mario Flores was being held. Mario is often funny in his twitter account, he's an all around nice guy who's worst crime is working in publicity (aside from the often juvenile prank he performed with his posse when he was younger) and, let's face it, a dorky guy who loves comics and Batman, and probably wishes he had superpowers.
On 2008, he had the bad luck of working in the building right next to where Secretary of State Juan Camilo Mouriño's plane went down. He was given the afternoon free amid the chaos that reigned the whole neighborhood (the whole country really), something very uncommon for those poor lab rats that work for one of those huge publicity firms.
So on the afternoon of Thursday, November 10th, not five days ago, when he was given the afternoon free, he remembered that fateful day three years ago and took it to his account, @mareoflores. "Not since Mouriño's plane went down was I out of the office this early.
Take care, flying officials", he tweeted. ("No salía tan temprano del trabajo desde que se cayó la avioneta de Mouriño. Anden con cuidado, funcionarios voladores" is the original tweet).
On a cruel twist of fate, and a very strange coincidence, last Friday, a helicopter carrying Secretary of State Francisco Blake Mora crashed into a hill. All passengers were killed, leaving the country wondering how such bad luck could occur twice during the same President's tenure, specially in a country so entrenched in conflict as Mexico is right now, and specially when both Mouriño and Blake were close personal friends of Felipe Calderon.
There was a landslide of tweets regarding the crash, some in very poor taste, others asking what had happened and demanding an investigation.
The president was quick to inform that bad weather conditions were the cause of the accident. He vanished any possibility that this was other than a tragedy caused by fog, but promised to "pursue and exhaust all lines of investigations".
Mario's tweet, innocent enough at the time, started making the rounds with people curious enough to search for a connection between Mouriño's crash and Blake's accident.
Many twitter users faced and retweeted the prophetic lines of Mario and another user, @Morf0, who tweeted hours before the crash "Today, 11-11, a secretary will fall from the sky".
All the favs and RT gathered the attention of the public eye, and Mario started asking his friends if he should erase the tweet, along with a couple of other jokes he made afterwards. Debating between leaving things as they were or just pressing the delete button, he decided on the latter and carried on making small jokes and silly comments. After all, this unwanted attention was good for his twitterego.
But that attention turned sour within a couple of days. On Sunday, five unmarked cars showed up at his parent's door, grabbed him without giving any explanations or a warrant or any kind of official order, and without identifying themselves (It's still not clear if it was members of the PFP -Federal Preventive Police- or the PGJ -State Attorney General- who picked him up).
Mario resisted not really knowing what was going on and after a quick struggle, he was taken away.
His dad came out a few minutes too late.
Mario was already on his way to a government building to be questioned about his tweet and his relationship with the accident. He was held without an attorney until his father was able to find out who had taken his son.
When his friends found out, we took to twitter and tried to make as much noise as possible, because we had no information about him, didn't know if he was ok and even worse, why he was being held. The response of people was amazing. The outrage was everywhere. We all felt like it could've been one of us. Five days after Mexico was flagged by the Human Rights Watch for violating pretty much every human right in the book during Felipe Calderon's years as the head of the country, one of our own, not a random, faceless person in another state, was being held without apparent reason.
For 7 hours, #mareoflores became a Trending Topic and pushed the Mexican activists to act upon the case. This was more than a person being held. It was our right of free speech that was being kept locked.
I won't celebrate Mario's tweets after Blake died. He was foolish enough to get caught in the hype and even went so far as to change his bio to make another joke, this one a notch too distasteful.
But I won't judge his jokes either. It's his choice to have a particular sense of humor and his choice to go out and publish it on his personal account. And he should not be questioned because of it.
When the official statement from the PGR was released, it amassed more laughters than Mario's tweets. He was held as a "witness". "Of what?", everybody asked. Since when, if the official story is true, can a tweet alter the weather? Not even after he was released was Mario truly free. The statements also reads "right now, there is no relationship between his tweet and the accident". Well, I guess Mario's wish for superpowers must have come true.
When Mario was released, to the cheers of his friends and some 50 people gathered outside of the government office, he explained everything, he was calmed and collected, and he was a little bit nervous to have all this attention that "nobody could want", he said. He even was a little regretful of the things he tweeted afterwards, amidst the political climate of the country. So it wasn't the questioning, as much as the ways the police proceeded, basically kidnapping a guy from his front door, thinking none would notice.
He hugged and kissed his girlfriend, thanked his friends, and returned home, with the news of what had happened spreading to all corners of the web. The Washington Post, BBC News, Reforma and all the major mexican newspapers were aware of the situation. Trolls festered Mario and other people sympathized with him. But he's still the same dorky guy who handled the situation the best he could. When I talked to him this morning, still a little overwhelmed, we talked about this for 2 seconds, and then we moved on to more pressing stuff, like where will we hang out next weekend.
The good news is that this won't go unnoticed again. And hopefully, people will use Twitter more as a tool and less as an endless joke box. The only way to have freedom of speech is to not be quite and to fight for what's right, even if that means posting 140 character punchlines. They can't mess with our right to say what we want, because then they'd have to take us all for questioning. Mario is free, and so is the internet.
Related reading: "La libertad no cae del cielo, el caso de #mareoflores en México," Geraldine Juárez at alt1040.
Wookie Williams is an editor, journalist, and writer based in Mexico.