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Twitter Joke Trial
November 12, 2010 5:01 AM   Subscribe

Back in May this year, British Twitter user Paul Chambers was found guilty of sending a 'menacing electronic communication'. The communication in question? A Twitter update written when stuck at an airport, saying the following: "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Paul's lawyer David Allen Green (who blogs as Jack of Kent), recaps the subsequent events here. Although the airport considered the threat 'non-credible', the Crown Prosecution Service made the decision to prosecute regardless - under a relatively obscure offence originally intended for nuisance telephone calls in the 1930s, rather than the offence for which Paul was originally arrested (making a bomb threat against the airport). The CPS interpreted the former to require no actual evidence of intent on Paul's part.

Yesterday, Paul lost his appeal against the conviction. Judge Jacqueline Davies ruled that the Twitter message was "menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed."

Public interest in the story has grown rapidly since May, most notably on Twitter under the #twitterjoketrial hashtag. As a result of the trials and conviction, Paul Chambers has lost his job and owes several thousand pounds in legal fees (which Stephen Fry has offered to pay). The case's long-term consequences for civil liberties in the UK remain uncertain.
posted by Catseye (73 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would make a joke about blowing the courts sky high, but I think that might be sailing a bit too close to the wind.

(It's just struck me that when they read this comment, as a normal part of monitoring the web activities of everyone everywhere, the literal-minded government security service will now believe that I am actually on a boat. "It could not be more clear!")
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 5:07 AM on November 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


I am on a horse.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:10 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many Twitter users are currently reposting Paul's original comment (or parodies) under the #IAmSpartacus hashtag. It's trending worldwide.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:11 AM on November 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


- Obligatory link to Betjemen poem.
- Statement that I seanyboy promise that if the British Government don't get this sorted ASAP, I'm going to start bombing shopping precincts.
- #iamsparticus tag.
- Quote from twitter user @stevegreer - "Somehow the war on terror has become the war on people who refuse to be terrorised."
- link to article decrying the loss of British humour

This is such a retarded move I don't even know where to begin. It's utterly idiotic.
posted by seanyboy at 5:13 AM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Damn You Infinite Jest.
posted by seanyboy at 5:13 AM on November 12, 2010


"Eat more sports candy or my airship will blow up #IAmSportacus"
LOL.
posted by seanyboy at 5:20 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, so excuse this comment if it comes across to you as wretchedly middle class and privileged - but yesterday for the first time in my life I, just for a moment, I found myself reluctant to say something for fear that I would be arrested.

Sadly, what I wanted to say wasn't some noble crie-de-coeur or political firebrandery as a result of years of oppression of my people. I just thought I could say pretty much what I wanted about pretty much what I wanted in the knowledge that the powers that be (for want of a better expression) would have the wit to apply critical thinking - or at the very least nuanced thinking - to what I'd said in the unlikely event that it was ever escalated to them.

But no.

I think this tweet says it best.
posted by Jofus at 5:23 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The UK has civil liberties?
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:24 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I really, really want to be Stephen Fry's best friend.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:31 AM on November 12, 2010


IanDai Ian Davies
#iamspartacus alfred nobel, open your door or i shall not use your dynamite!!!

posted by angrycat at 5:33 AM on November 12, 2010


Oh, crap...now I'm an admitted admirer of someone giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Better get a lawyer.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:33 AM on November 12, 2010


seanyboy: Damn You Infinite Jest.

Is that some kind of threat?

seanmpuckett: The UK has civil liberties?

Three of them.

Jofus: I felt the same way, and to be honest I only re-tweeted the Spartacus tweet once I saw that so many other people had already done it. I wonder if conditional wording would act as a get-out clause? See Tuberville v Savage. ("If I wasn't scared of the judge, I'd make a joke threat to blow up the airport").
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:33 AM on November 12, 2010


Does anyone know what this tweet says?
posted by like_neon at 5:37 AM on November 12, 2010


I don't see what the issue is. Just don't post muslim looking tweets (which you shouldn't be doing anyway) and you'll be fine.
posted by nomadicink at 5:39 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


#IAmSpartacus tweets

Ripley from Aliens
"Manchester Police"
(Girl?)Friend of Paul
Bones McCoy
Pun on "blowing"
Another pun on "blowing"
Snakes on a plane
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:40 AM on November 12, 2010


It's the "Crap!" that makes this twit real.
posted by chavenet at 5:41 AM on November 12, 2010


I can't help but laugh at the timing of nomadicink's comment after mine.
posted by like_neon at 5:43 AM on November 12, 2010


No Crap! My sphincter is closed. If it doesn't open back up in a week, I might blow sky high!!!! #iamconstipated.
posted by humanfont at 5:50 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed."

I think that just confirmed once and for all, as if there was ever much doubt, that the judiciary in this country are far from ordinary people.
posted by afx237vi at 5:52 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


An Open Letter to Judge Jacqueline Davies
posted by Artw at 5:54 AM on November 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


A lovely piece by the ever brilliant Anton Vowl...

I am not an ordinary person
posted by the_epicurean at 5:54 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


On the one hand the law is an ass, on the other it's not looking good for this Tory muppet.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 5:55 AM on November 12, 2010


i forget now, how many terroristic attacks have taken place in which a terrorist twatted the exact location and nature of the attack beforehand?
posted by fallacy of the beard at 5:59 AM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


In other news, the CPS has announced a name change to reflect its additional responsibilities supporting the war on common sense.

Henceforth, Ministry of Justice officials have requested it be known as the Crown Persecution Service.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:02 AM on November 12, 2010


fallacy of the beard : The IRA used to telephone the police to tell them what targets they were going to bomb. Though they had passwords they'd use so the police knew it was really them and not some idiot.
posted by seanyboy at 6:07 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


SyntacticSugar : Yeah - Gareth Compton should be stood against the wall and shot for saying that. (Not my joke).
posted by seanyboy at 6:08 AM on November 12, 2010


The Jack of Kent timeline makes for depressing reading - basically all the way along everyone knew this was ridiculous but they had to go through with it because of "process", until seemingly the thing got enough momentum that they had to convict him at all costs to defend that process, despite the utterly bizarre result. Basically he was convicted for being inconvenient to small minded beaurocrats.
posted by Artw at 6:08 AM on November 12, 2010


I wonder who originally forwarded it to the idiots at Robin Hood airport?
It's all about 'sending a message' Artw; i.e. that authoritarians/bureaucrats have absolutely no sense of humour. Where's BuSab when you need them?
posted by SyntacticSugar at 6:20 AM on November 12, 2010


i forget now, how many terroristic attacks have taken place in which a terrorist twatted the exact location and nature of the attack beforehand?

Well, bomb threats are a real thing that have to be taken seriously in some instances. And it's entirely possible that Twitter could be used in earnest to make bomb threats. The main point of course is that this wasn't one of those instances, not by a million miles...
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 6:20 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


like_neon - according to my google translate, it says exactly what the tweet that got the fellow prosecuted said, but in Arabic.
posted by entropone at 6:23 AM on November 12, 2010


I've placed a yummy cherry custard at Westminster. If my demands aren't met, in 24 hours it will go off.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:29 AM on November 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


I wonder who originally forwarded it to the idiots at Robin Hood airport?

I imagine they have an automatic search set up that monitors for mention of their name. (Heathrow Airport does this - only they're using it really well, to monitor people with questions or problems related to Heathrow, so they can solve them).
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:30 AM on November 12, 2010


I imagine they have an automatic search set up that monitors for mention of their name

That's what I would have thought, some kind of Google Alert. Just that the Jack of Kent blog mentions that it was forwarded directly. Maybe it's just a CYA fib by the airport.
Which seems to be the problem with this whole thing; each time it was easier to boot the problem up to the next level of authority and let them deal with it.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 6:37 AM on November 12, 2010


until seemingly the thing got enough momentum that they had to convict him at all costs to defend that process

I was going to make a point about the vested interests in making this a story but it seems that as his lawyer states "At no stage in this story does any person who knew better - either at airport security, the police, or the CPS - act in a sensible and responsible manner."

It's like Inception, where each time the story moves to the next level the dumb increases exponentially. So a half-second of carelessness stretches to a few months of utter idiocy and we're left with a a whole city made of stupid.
posted by fullerine at 6:45 AM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Was he serious? No.
Can you dare joke about bombing an airport? Duh--no.

He's an idiot for posting such a thing. Everyone knows TSA and NTSB does not have a sense a humor about blowing any form of transportation up.

What he should said was "if they don't get their shit together I"m blowing a major fart in this airport!"

Now that is fully acceptable.
posted by stormpooper at 6:58 AM on November 12, 2010


Can you dare joke about bombing an airport?

Yes. Yes. YES. You can. You can. YOU CAN.
posted by Jofus at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Airports seem pretty sensitive about bomb threats. They don't like it at all.

That's just 4 examples from the first 2 pages of a search - I'm sure there are lots & lots more.
posted by DanCall at 7:16 AM on November 12, 2010


(By which I meant jokes about bomb threats, clearly)
posted by DanCall at 7:18 AM on November 12, 2010


He's an idiot for posting such a thing. Everyone knows TSA and NTSB does not have a sense a humor about blowing any form of transportation up.

This didn't take place in the US.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:22 AM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


My favourite from the #twitterjoketrial tag was some time ago (paraphrased) - "I hope they realise they can only have 140 character witnesses"
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:26 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the #IAmSpartacus thing that's happening on Twitter this morning.

Someone made a violent, disturbing threat, in ASCII plaintext, on a public forum. They're completely unknown to me. I have no way to be sure that they're joking. I don't know them at all. How should I react? "It's clearly a joke" is not sufficient. Several of my friends were shot in school by some kid named Kip. Perhaps he told his friends a joke about shooting up the school the week prior. Is that free speech? Yes, sadly. It's also a big red flag for third party observers.

Paul, whoever he is, responded to an inconvenience by threatening to blow up an airport. Thankfully, he did not follow through; apparently he was "joking". His joke, as repeated above, is missing, among other things: j/k, a ;) smiley, or just kidding. There are no cues that I can use to determine whether he's serious or not. Every day I see another story about outwardly-boring people turning into killers, attempted or otherwise.

Twitter fully supported his right to free speech by allowing him to post his joke. His tweet was not censored by any third party. An argument could be made that if it had been censored, we would never have advance warning if he ended up going bonkers and actually following through. How many school shootings are preceded by public exhibition of violent tendencies that are labeled as "joking" by others?

His government exercised their right to prosecute someone who makes a violent threat towards thousands of people. Joking or not, he made a violent threat. His conviction on that basis was upheld.

Don't make violent threats, folks. Not even as a joke. Don't grow accustomed to thinking of violence when you're frustrated. Please find another outlet for to vent, before it's too late. If not for your sake, then for ours.
posted by crysflame at 7:33 AM on November 12, 2010


I'm absolutely boggled that anyone would interpret that tweet as a "violent threat." Did the terrorists blow up your sense of perspective?
posted by ook at 7:48 AM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


crysflame: "I don't understand the #IAmSpartacus thing that's happening on Twitter this morning."

Then you clearly have nothing to fear. The rest of us have already lost.
posted by brokkr at 7:54 AM on November 12, 2010


Come on crysflame - there are several points at which ANYBODY could reasonably have been able to make a judgement call on this. Even if we are to accept your assessment that this was both 'violent and disturbing' (which I'm totally not, but w'evs.) there is a whole chain of people from Johnny Airport Manager all the way up to Judge Techno Retard who should taken a look at this, crinkled their noses and said, in a loud, clear voice "This, people, is bullshit".

I can accept that a visit from a police officer might not have been totally out of line in this case. We live in interesting times. But the failure of the judicial system to not do the decent thing all the way up the line to an appeal judge is just so monsterously depressing.
posted by Jofus at 7:54 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am forced, in an effort to cheer myself up, to imagine a chain of policemen, CPS officials, lawyers, judges and Lords all slapping their foreheads in dismay at this display of asshattery.
posted by Jofus at 7:56 AM on November 12, 2010


crysflame, read all those #iamspartacus tweets that Infinite Jest linked.

Technically speaking, every single one of them is a "jokey threat". Do you think every one of those people should be prosecuted like Paul Chambers? If not, why not? You don't know them at all. They don't have any j/k's or winks. How do you know they are not serious?

I admit, sometimes it's hard to tell if someone is joking or not (as an American in England sometimes their humor goes way over my head) but when we start convicting people solely based on what they say, when there is absolutely no evidence that they were going to go through with it or that they have a history of such things, it really makes me scared for our civil liberties.
posted by like_neon at 7:59 AM on November 12, 2010


It's just that, as mentioned previously, we're not serious that often. When I talk about what sort of explosives would best bring down the building in which I work nobody takes it seriously because it's so obviously a joke about how much work sucks. When I talk about stalking through Meadowhall shopping centre with an AK-47 and a bag of ammo none of my colleagues, friends or even passers-by are going to report me to police because a) I'm not obviously Islamic and b) that's just fucking silly. People understand that I am merely complaining about Meadowhell and it's general awfulness.

The very idea that an everyday person would spend months walking into a shop to buy 7 bottles of bleach (whilst covering his beard and doing an "IRA terrorist" voice obviously) until he had enough to blow the whole airport up is absolutely ridiculous. The very idea that someone would do this due to a delay is the stupidest suggestion I've heard in a good long time.

He didn't make a violent threat because a joke isn't a threat. The issue on display here is if they have such shitty humour detectors then how am I supposed to trust the bomb detectors?

(Incidentally - less than six months ago I managed to walk through the metal detector at Robin Hood airport with a metal-framed swiss army knife in my pocket - I didn't realise until I landed at my destination. Well done on detecting the real threats there guys!)
posted by longbaugh at 8:03 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


And here is the clincher that makes this whole situation appalling and really shows what shaky grounds Judge Davies is on:

They could not even prosecute him on the grounds of making a public threat, they convicted him based on a different offense (that you'd have to use your imagination to think it applies) because they lacked evidence.

Even the prosecution knows that Paul wasn't a serious public threat! And yet they've severely damaged his livelihood to make some sort of example out of him.
posted by like_neon at 8:05 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


No, crysflame, you are plain wrong. There was no violent or disturbing threat at any point. In the UK, we do not need to put 'j/k' or 'just kidding' in order to communicate humour.

Read this post on how Chambers' tweet falls squarely in the tradition of the British sense of humour and this detailed analysis of the several very clear cues in the original tweet marking it out as a joke.

Are you really arguing that the British must change their sense of humour in response to terrorism?
posted by motty at 8:17 AM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Another thing just occurred to me, crysflame: Have you never said "oh, I'm gonna kill you for that" or words to that effect?
posted by brokkr at 8:40 AM on November 12, 2010


This makes me sad.

I accept, but do not necessarily like, the fact that it is "foolish" to make bomb-related comments (non-serious, joking, or temporarily angry rantings) about large public areas, airports especially, and I grudgingly concur with an earlier statement that given today's climate, a detainment, official interview, or small fine would have been sufficient.

I can only hope that common sense will eventually prevail, if not in this instance, in future cases.

I will however, accept the fact that people in general do not like comments such as these, and that twittering such venting is akin to shouting it from a rooftop in certain circles, and one must accept the consequences of doing so, irrational and over the top as they are in this case.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:45 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry brokkr, I don't think that is relevant. Sure, I understand what you're trying to ask, but even if crysflame has never ever made a joke alluding to violence ever in their life, it still does not make this conviction ok.
posted by like_neon at 8:50 AM on November 12, 2010


Everyone on this weblog had better acquire a basic sense of humor NOW, or the non-blue blowhards out there in the real world will march in and fill this whole virtual echo chamber full of marshmallow foam, drowning all of us in cheap, sweet, sound-deadening confectionary!!!!!
posted by gorgor_balabala at 8:54 AM on November 12, 2010


stormpooper:What he should said was "if they don't get their shit together I"m blowing a major fart in this airport!"


That would sabotage the Major's promotion to General for sure.
posted by dr_dank at 9:31 AM on November 12, 2010


Actually, under long-established principles, "jokes" must comply with certain formal requirements to be valid and operative at English law. There are three main forms:

(1) A joke may be validly made as the answer to the question of why a fowl, or group thereof, journeyed into or across any highway, viaduct, avenue, easement or public thoroughfare. This is the maxim of de pullus crux via non curat lex. E.g. "Why did the chicken cross the road? To blow up your fucking airport" - this is valid at law.

(2) As a principle of evidence, a statement may be used in any legal procedings where any animals, persons or things enter into any licenced premises and one of the aforementioned entities goes up to the barman and makes the statement in question. There is a short form here which is useful, you can say "'Just hurry the fuck up or I'll kill you', as the long-faced Horse said to the barman".

(3) According to Queen Anne's Act of 1838, Section 4: "no joke, jest or witticism, ribald or otherwise, and notwithstanding the accent of the speaker, true or false, nor whether the speaker of same has a nose of red colour of any other colour whatsoever, shall be impugned or subject to sanction where the maker of said joke (etc) has before uttering the said joke (etc) knocked twice upon any door, portal, window-pane or gate of any dwelling, and the occupier of said dwelling has interrogated the identity of the first-mentioned person". We call this the quisnam hic est defence.

Ergo, this is OK:

*Knock Knock*
- Who's there?
Robin.
- Robin Who?
Robin Who-d airport will be a desolate, bomb-shattered wateland filled with bleeding corpse-bits by this time tomorrow, you worthless pricks.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2010 [25 favorites]


Reminds me of the whole Joe Lipari thing.

And the whole thing with the jackass Gareth Compton.
posted by kmz at 10:01 AM on November 12, 2010


My comment stems from a distaste for violent words as a reaction to stress.

> I can accept that a visit from a police officer might not have been totally out of line in this case. We live in interesting times. But the failure of the judicial system to not do the decent thing all the way up the line to an appeal judge is just so monsterously depressing.

I absolutely agree. This should have been handled much more effectively than it was. I absolutely despise the legal mechanics in his case. There are so many more appropriate ways to deal with it. Instead, they chose a technically legal but horrifically stupid path. I would do anything to see common sense reintroduced into legal considerations.

> I will however, accept the fact that people in general do not like comments such as these, and that twittering such venting is akin to shouting it from a rooftop in certain circles, and one must accept the consequences of doing so, irrational and over the top as they are in this case.

I absolutely agree that the consequences are irrational and over the top. But, that's the world he chose to "shout from the rooftops" in. I just don't have any sympathy whatsoever.

> It's just that, as mentioned previously, we're not serious that often. When I talk about what sort of explosives would best bring down the building in which I work nobody takes it seriously because it's so obviously a joke about how much work sucks.

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a bizarre parallel universe. When my job sucks, I dream about finding a better job. When your job sucks, you dream about blowing up your workplace, and that turns out to be incredibly common. Did I miss something when I was growing up?

> Have you never said "oh, I'm gonna kill you for that" or words to that effect?

Yes. At some point the mental image started to disturb me, and so I stopped saying things like that. Reminds me of some popular song this year that repeats "I keep bleeding" over and over, every few seconds. I respect that it's a metaphor, and I know that it's popular, but the visual just ruins it for me.

> I'm absolutely boggled that anyone would interpret that tweet as a "violent threat."

I apologize for presenting a confusing viewpoint without any sort of explanation.

To offer one example of how someone could interpret that tweet as a "violent threat", if Paul had written down his tweet on a piece of paper and handed it to an airport security official, he probably would have been jailed on the spot.

I don't particularly agree with the reaction, but that doesn't make it less likely.

> read all those #iamspartacus tweets that Infinite Jest linked. Technically speaking, every single one of them is a "jokey threat". Do you think every one of those people should be prosecuted like Paul Chambers?

I'm of two minds. On one side, it'd be an utter waste of time. I can't imagine any prosecutor would bother. However, the law permits it, and I'm totally not thrilled by the idea of a thousand people coming up with violent things to say and then including a "Get out of jail free" hashtag.

So, I think precisely one of them should be prosecuted, for the purpose of setting case law precedent on whether hashtag inclusion diminishes the threat or not. I don't have a strong opinion on how the case would turn out. We can't depend on common sense, so precedent is all that's left.

Note that Paul Chambers' "jokey threat" did not include a relatively unique keyphrase that is specifically associated with a collection of social humor/protest tweets about the nature of violent words in humor.

> Are you really arguing that the British must change their sense of humour in response to terrorism?

No. Hadn't even occurred to me. It would have been ridiculous of me to make such an argument. But I'm happy to give your question due consideration regardless.

How IS the British "sense of humour" going to coexist with threat-sensitive security operations? It doesn't appear to be going very well in this case. I can't imagine it's an easy problem to address, culturally.

I wouldn't know, since I'm not British. Which is probably why I didn't get that it was a joke just from reading it. It's clearly possible that it was a joke. It just wasn't anywhere as certain for me as it must have been for someone more familiar with the mannerisms.

> even if crysflame has never ever made a joke alluding to violence ever in their life, it still does not make this conviction ok.

I have made such jokes in the past; regardless this conviction is not "right", not "okay", not "reasonable", not "appropriate". It does appear, however, to be a technically well-formed decision under existing law.

> We call this the quisnam hic est defence.

See, all we need now is a device that knocks on wood twice before it publishes your tweets. Then you have a legally defensible standing from which to tweet anything you want!

> No, crysflame, you are plain wrong.

In the spirit of #perl, I think the correct pronunciation of that sentence is "NO crysflame YOU'RE WRONG".
posted by crysflame at 10:23 AM on November 12, 2010


They're completely unknown to me. I have no way to be sure that they're joking. I don't know them at all. How should I react? "It's clearly a joke" is not sufficient.

The tweet gives the airport "a week and a bit". And a bit! Come on!
posted by kenko at 10:48 AM on November 12, 2010


Another thing - the original tweet makes it clear that it was written in frustration at the airport being shut. Even if you have no sense of humour it is hard to parse the 'threat' part as serious, given the context. No-one would blow up an airport they intended to use. Hence the widespread anger and justification at the verdict.
posted by motty at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2010


His joke, as repeated above, is missing, among other things: j/k, a ;) smiley, or just kidding. There are no cues that I can use to determine whether he's serious or not.

Apparently this is going to be fixed in comedy films. Every time there is a joke they are going to flash up a giant LOL on the screen in blinking yellow text to provide a cue that the audience is going to use to determine whether it's serious or not.

Twitter had considered offering an #itsajokeforgodssake hashtag, but security services have informed them that the terrorists might use it even if they're not joking.

It's a scary world.
posted by reynir at 11:11 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


the Crown Prosecution Service made the decision to prosecute regardless

That's the same Crown Prosecution Service that made a decision not to prosecute the policeman seen by millions beating Ian Tomlinson to the ground, only for him to die minutes later.

I think they toss a coin. Heads we take you to trial, tails you're a member of the Met.
posted by reynir at 11:23 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"anger and mystification"

That's the last time I post from my phone. Sheesh.
.
posted by motty at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2010


(Incidentally - less than six months ago I managed to walk through the metal detector at Robin Hood airport with a metal-framed swiss army knife in my pocket - I didn't realise until I landed at my destination. Well done on detecting the real threats there guys!)


But see how you've started accepting that a swiss army knife is a "threat"? Ten years ago it would have been "Are you fucking kidding me, I can't have a swiss army knife FFS?"

That's what annoys me.

The "don't joke about a bomb in an airport" thing came before that—I was born in 1970 and I can't remember when that was not a well-known no-no. It's the same thing, though. Overboard reaction to some perceived issue in the past becomes accepted procedure, simply through longevity, not because it makes any sense.
posted by ctmf at 1:27 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


To offer one example of how someone could interpret that tweet as a "violent threat", if Paul had written down his tweet on a piece of paper and handed it to an airport security official, he probably would have been jailed on the spot.

Well, possibly, but he didn't do that. He vented on twitter to his friends (or followers or whatever you call them on twitter.) There's a huge difference between making a direct threat to someone and bullshitting among friends.

Context matters. Intent matters. Okay, twitter is semi-public; it would have been borderline reasonable for the authorities, in an overabundance of caution, to check up on this to find out if there was actually a credible threat here. Which they presumably did. And when they discovered that no, there was no credible threat, they decided to take the guy to court anyway.

There's a long way from "a distaste for violent words as a reaction to stress" -- which I share with you -- to this guy losing his job and piles of money for using some words you find distasteful.
posted by ook at 1:37 PM on November 12, 2010


To offer one example of how someone could interpret that tweet as a "violent threat", if Paul had written down his tweet on a piece of paper and handed it to an airport security official, he probably would have been jailed on the spot.

That's not a fair comparison, writing something down would make it an entirely different issue.

Contracts are written down, birth, death, marriage and degree certificates are still issued in written form, going back centuries court cases are minuted and stored in books. That is - important stuff is traditionally written down with the expectation that it will be stored permanently, and along with that is the expectation that stuff written down is more important.

Conversations you have with your neighbours, jokes you share with your friends, these are traditionally ephemeral things which pass out of existence as soon as you've said them. However, thanks to modern communication technology, the medium through which you communicate these ephemeral things to your friends and neighbours now has the all attributes of the written down, important stuff, with the special added bonus of being easily searchable. That doesn't make them the same sort of thing.
posted by robertc at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


if Paul had written down his tweet on a piece of paper and handed it to an airport security official, he probably would have been jailed on the spot.

I'd like to think they'd give it back and say "I'm sorry sir, this is clearly addressed to your girlfreind" - and let's face it, the uniform wouldprobably be a bit of a tip off he was giving it to the wrong person.
posted by Artw at 3:24 PM on November 12, 2010


Best tweet so far: I'm going to get sky high and blow Robin Hood in the airport toilets (by Peter Serafinowicz)
posted by idiomatika at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Johnny Airport Manager

Love it.
posted by smoke at 9:15 PM on November 12, 2010


Just by way of a comparison, there was another recent conviction under the same legislation: website troll jailed.
posted by HastyDave at 4:55 PM on November 13, 2010


I see death threats every day on Twitter, usually directed at people who have very right wing views or have made some negative comment about Justin Bieber or one of the cast of Big Brother 11. I'm still waiting for the prosecutions.
posted by Summer at 6:50 AM on November 14, 2010


I can't say I've seen any - That'd be the brilliance and diversity of Twitter I guess.
posted by Artw at 8:09 AM on November 14, 2010


I think, really, the issue isn't really about making bomb jokes in an airport. I think most everyone is agreed (possibly grudgingly) that it's ok to not be allowed to do that in an airport, even joking to your friend next to you.

The issue is, is Twitter "in the airport." In the face-to-face scenario, you are in the airport, your friend is in the airport, someone in the airport could overhear. If you called a friend on the phone and made a bomb joke, your friend isn't in the airport but you are and someone in the airport could overhear—is that illegal? Now if you emailed a friend, you're in the airport, but your friend isn't, and nobody in the airport could overhear it. Some busybody could read it off of your screen while you were typing, though. What about that?

Twitter's like email, except a step more complicated. A recipient of the message COULD be in the airport, or on the way to the airport, you never know. (I understand Twitter messages briefly scroll on the main page for the entire world to see, yes? While I've tried it, it hasn't clicked yet what I want it for, so I haven't stuck with it.)

It's probably not so much that it makes or doesn't make sense for this particular guy to be arrested as it is that they want to make the "don't" umbrella cover Twitter also as a general policy.
posted by ctmf at 9:33 AM on November 14, 2010


The words you read next will be your last because I'm going to strangle every single one of you...
posted by Artw at 8:42 PM on November 14, 2010


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