#twitterjoketrial doesn't raise a giggle

A week ago the blogosphere erupted in anger when Paul Chambers was convicted under the Communications Act and fined £1,000 for posting this comment on Twitter in January: Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh*t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!


It seems laughable that a British court would convict Chambers and that taxpayers money has been used to let this case rumble though the system, reaching a conclusion that seems – on the surface – barmy.
After all, can you imagine the 7/7 London bombers back in 2005 (had Twitter existed) communicating their threat to the capital in advance of blowing the capital city sky high?
The Crown Prosecution Service claimed that they have to take bomb threats seriously and they can’t start making attempts to judge which are poor jokes and which are real. Naturally Paul Chambers was not pleased with the result – using Twitter to indicate his displeasure with the CPS.
The debate is still ongoing, mostly in favour of Chambers and asking why the authorities waste money on security measures that don’t offer security yet prosecute obviously innocent people. And given the rebellious nature of many bloggers, it’s only natural to try sticking the boot in and declaring the whole thing a waste of time and money.
But there are two points that I feel are ignored as the blogosphere rushes to point out how stupid this entire trial has been:
  1. If you were making a bomb threat in person, especially at or close to an airport, then the authorities would arrest and charge you. Why should it be any different if you use an online network to communicate that intention? 
  2. It proves that the authorities are treating Twitter as a publishing platform with as much (if not more) relevance than the regular press. So this could open the floodgates and cause people to start watching what they say on Twitter for fear of libel suits being launched because of 140-character slights.
No matter how fatuous it may seem, the joke about a bomb in the bag at check-in has long been seen as something that’s not really very funny. Try cracking that gag at Heathrow airport and you will be lucky to feel your feet touch the floor as armed officers whisk you away.
I too feel this case should never have gone to court, but while we sit and hurl abuse at the CPS, it’s worth thinking about how this changes the world of the blogger. You are now a publisher, with all the responsibilities that entails.

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Can I just refer you to the factually correct and comprehensive blog on this subject, http://jackofkent.blogspot.com. Sometimes when writing about issues such as this, especially when you have so many followers, you need to recognise your responsibility to report facts. One of which is, there was NO intent behind the tweet. Also, libel doesn't have much to do with this particluar case. It isn't like Robin Hood Airport was called a big fat smelly airport! The credibility of this "threat" was zero. It wasn't even a threat. The intention of the message was to convey frustration and disappointment at potentially cancelled travel plans. Robin Hood Airport was merely the subject used to illustrate the disappointment. It's how many people communicate via Twitter, they tell a story; craft a tweet. You've only got 140 characters with which to convey information amusingly. It almost seems as if you don't know how it works. Follow any comedians or interesting or funny people? If so, your failure to remove context from the tweets and report them to the authorities makes you a hypocrite.
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Can I just refer you to the factually correct and comprehensive blog on this subject, http://jackofkent.blogspot.com. Sometimes when writing about issues such as this, especially when you have so many followers, you need to recognise your responsibility to report facts. One of which is, there was NO intent behind the tweet. Also, libel doesn't have much to do with this particluar case. It isn't like Robin Hood Airport was called a big fat smelly airport! The credibility of this "threat" was zero. It wasn't even a threat. The intention of the message was to convey frustration and disappointment at potentially cancelled travel plans. Robin Hood Airport was merely the subject used to illustrate the disappointment. It's how many people communicate via Twitter, they tell a story; craft a tweet. You've only got 140 characters with which to convey information amusingly. It almost seems as if you don't know how it works. Follow any comedians or interesting or funny people? If so, your failure to remove context from the tweets and report them to the authorities makes you a hypocrite.
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In the 1970's I worked for BT (or Post Office Telecomms as it was then) as an operator in a telephone exchange. This was during the days of anywhere and everywhere in the UK being under threat from the IRA. It seemed to be the life's work of mischieveous children, thrill-seeking adults, and the mentally ill to dial 100 and announce to the operator who took the call that a bomb had been planted on the premises. Despite the fact that the call may have come from a 10 year old kid and clearly not a credible threat, they were always reported, taken very seriously, and without fail resulted in a complete evacuation of the building. An annoying set of circumstances back then, but is Paul Chambers statement in Twitter any worse than that? Perhaps but only due to it being declared on Twitter. A remark borne more of frustration than actual intent. Unlike those who instigated our evacuations on the days when it was pouring with rain, while they watched with glee from a nearby warm and dry telephone kiosk!
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Leigh, I agree with your comment. I was really just trying to ask these questions in the blog about whether it's any different to make a threat on Twitter?
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Hi Sarah, I've read Jack of Kent, as many people who are exploring this case have, and yes I do understand and use Twitter regularly so you don't need to give me a lesson. I agree with you that the charge against Paul was ridiculous and if this does not come across in the blog then I apologise. I did call it a laughable verdict that should never have gone to court - how much clearer should I make it? What I was trying to explore was why a threat against an airport made online should be any different to a threat made at a check-in counter or by telephone? I'm just trying to ask the questions and spark off some debate, not to claim that Paul should be eating porridge!
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Sarah, Mark's message is not even a message. Its a thought prompter and he is asking the readers to think about the matter. He is not passing a verdict here. How simple can this get? Sathya
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The same threat in person inside the airport would indeed be treated the same way: with heavy-handed brutality. There are many examples of angry, frustrated passengers stripped of their dignity by authorities who care nothing about security, but only about security procedures. That's wrong too. My daughter almost lost a bandolier-style belt she was wearing (a 16th birthday present from her mother the day before) when the security at Heathrow took objection. The most casual glance would confirm that these were not real bullets, so what was the threat? Eventually, the only argument the officer could come up with was that "people might be alarmed". We'd walked through the whole airport and I hadn't noticed anyone running away screaming. If a man with a beard started muttering verses in Arabic (perhaps to conquer his fear of flying) then that would alarm people more, but it's no reason to stop him getting on the plane. I know, the intention is to show that we are uncompromisingly serious about security, but the message I get is that our security is in the hands of paranoid fools with no imagination or even common sense. That doesn't make me feel safer; quite the opposite.
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