A 27-year-old man complained about an airport delay in South Yorkshire, England on Twitter last year and wound up being found guilty of sending a “menacing” message by a U.K. court. Paul Chambers is back before the bench at London’s high court Wednesday to appeal his conviction.
Paul Chambers maintains he was only joking when he wrote, in January 2010: “Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your [expletive] together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!”
But the trial’s public prosecutor said Chambers’ remark “constituted a threat,” Twitter user @RobertBooth reported. Booth, a Guardian journalist, is live tweeting the proceedings.
Fearing the implications of a conviction over a joke on the social network, Twitter users have rallied behind Chambers. Hundreds of tweets have been sent out in support of Chambers, most of them using the snarky hashtag #TwitterJokeTrial.
One user wrote Wednesday:
“Thoughtcrime” is a term from George Orwell's dystopian novel “1984,” in which simply thinking could land a person in prison.
Chambers legal team has argued that the conviction breached Chamber’s rights to free expression under the European convention on human rights.
Nick Cohen at The Guardian has called it an “abuse of antiterrorist legislation.” “You know the difference between making a joke and announcing a murder, I'm sure,” Cohen wrote. “Apparently the forces of law and order do not.”
The trial is part of a continuing trend in the U.K. of cracking down on comments made on the Web. On Tuesday, Britain’s Home Affairs Committee announced in a report that the Internet was to blame for radicalization of terrorists. The committee suggested that Internet providers start monitoring or handle material that promotes violence — like the blowing up on an airport — by taking it down from the Web.
When the London riots happened last year, the British government tried to clamp down on the Blackberry Messenger service for the role it played in allowing violent protesters to organize.
On Wednesday, one of the U.K.’s well-known comedians wasn’t joking when he tweeted about the Twitter joke trial:
And yet Twitter jokes aren’t taken lightly on either side of the pond. Late last month, two Brits were detained after joking on Twitter that they were going to “destroy America,” meaning to get drunk and party there. Los Angeles police weren’t amused, and promptly deported the two vacationers back to the U.K.
Do you think Chambers should be prosecuted for his tweet, or is his trial an overreaction? Have your say in the comments below.
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