It seems that not a day goes by without some kind of controversy exploding on Twitter. Even a seemingly innocent tweet about mosquito diseases could spark off an all-out flamefest.
However, for one young man in the UK, a frustrated tweet about a cancelled flight led to more than just some awkward insults traded through Twitter. He ended up arrested, charged and convicted of a crime.
Back in January of 2010 the UK was paralyzed by heavy levels of snow. Paul Chambers was on the way to visit his girlfriend, and when he found out t the snow meant the airport was closed, he took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.
For many of us, this seems perfectly normal â?? who hasnâ??t used Facebook or Twitter to express their annoyance from time to time? Unfortunately for him his tweet may have gone a little bit too far.
References to a weeklong ‘deadline’ for the airport to re-open, with the promise to blow it up if the deadline was not met, brought him a visit from the police, a trial and a fine. His defense, that he was just joking, was not looked upon with favor by the original court or by the judge in his first appeal. Comedians and Twitter users railed to his defense, and he launched an appeal against his conviction.
The Final Appeal
More than two years after his first trial, in July 2012, his appeal was heard yet again, by the UK’s High Court. This time the verdict was a victory for humor.
While the court’s written judgment didn’t seem to think much of Chambers’ comedy skills, they did find that if it was reasonable to think those who saw the tweet would think that it was a joke, then it couldn’t really be considered to be menacing.
So, Chambers had his conviction quashed much to his relief, given that the original result had interfered with his employment.
Social Media Consequences
It looks like UK residents are now free to make off-color and hyperbolic jokes on Twitter again. Given the hyper-sensitivity to terrorism and threats of terrorism that we now face post 9/11, in some ways, it was almost obvious that a tweet about a bomb was going to cause some kind of a reaction.
However, this doesnâ??t mean we should simply sit back and relax when our rights are violated. For Paul Chambers it took three trials before his lack of malice was recognized by the courts.
With US authorities possessing even less of a sense of humor when it comes to terrorism, itâ??s probably best to simply avoid any mention of illegal activities on Twitter â?? whether youâ??re joking or not!
This guest post was written by Carl, who enjoys blogging about all kinds of technology, from social media to new diagnostic techniques for mosquito diseases.