Paul Chambers: The case of the malicious tweet

 

The Judge

Paul Chambers, a frustrated air traveller, tweeted in exasperation at the delays to his flight. The tweet was to change his life, and not for the better

Our story starts in January 2010.  Snow was adding to travellers problems’ including those at Nottingham’s Robin Hood airport

A young accountant was in danger of damaging his planned romantic meeting. In heavily ironic tones he tweeted

that unless service improved, he would be back in a week to blow up the airport.

Pause for reader reaction

The cautious me suggests that if security learned of the tweet, it might prompt the mildest of low-cost checking to see if the tweet was intended as. Joke (say 99% probability) or a bizarre early warning of terrorism intentions (say 1% probability).

What happened next

According to the report of the court case, Mr Chambers was en route to Belfast to consummate a twitter romance in real life. Failing to make his flight, the thwarted suiter returned to work when the local police arrived, and hauled him off into custody.

Legal proceedings followed, which resulted in a fine for which the appeal was originally turned down.

Eventually his high court challenge was successful, as The Guardian reported

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2012/jul/27/twitter-joke-trial-high-court

 

Paul Chambers, who was found guilty of sending a menacing tweet, has won his high court challenge against his conviction. Outside the court, he said he felt “relieved and vindicated”, adding: “It’s ridiculous it ever got so far.”

He had tweeted in frustration when he discovered that Robin Hood airport in South Yorkshire was closed because of snow. Eager to see his girlfriend, he sent out a tweet on the publicly accessible site declaring: “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!!”

He has always maintained that he did not believe anyone would take his “silly joke” seriously.

The lord chief justice, Lord Judge, sitting with Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, said:

“We have concluded that, on an objective assessment, the decision of the crown court that this ‘tweet’ constituted or included a message of a menacing character was not open to it. On this basis, the appeal against conviction must be allowed.”

Twitter to the rescue

As the mills of justice had ground on, twitter had sprung to the rescue. Celebrity twitter comedians such as Stephen Fry offered moral support, the spotlight of publicity, and some bankrolling of legal charges.

Not the only case

The tweeter appeared on Radio Five Live today [February 3rd, 2017]. He seemed a remarkably sanguine victim of wrongful arrest and of the loss of his job. His new wife too has given him moral support. (I’m not sure yet if she was the object of his snow-abandoned flight in 2010.)

I added this case to my collection of stories about twitter going viral over injustices visited on tweeters. Airline passengers have appeared quite frequently in the stories. [See Dilemmas of Leadership .]

Lessons learned

Twitter is a good friend but can be your worse enemy. A lesson there for Donald Trump perhaps?

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