A sorry tale of two tweets
November 12th, 2010
What a ridiculous state the UK has become. By now many of you will now of poor Paul Chamber’s plight. Back in Snow-laden January he tweeted a message which read
“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”
He was arrested, prosecuted, convicted and fined for that. He claims he was joking our of frustration and it would be hard not to realise that he didn’t really mean to act upon it. The police officers involved branded the tweet a “foolish comment posted on Twitter as a joke for only his close friends to see”. But yesterday not only did Paul lose his appeal against the conviction but his costs were raised to over £2000. The judge felt that given the current climate in the UK, the tweet could be taken as a real threat. Well clearly it wasn’t by the police but he was prosecuted anyway. Surely if ever there was a case for somebody to be rapped on the knuckles, apologise and not do it again, this was it.
Coincidentally another debacle unfolded on Twitter on the same day as Chambers lost his appeal. In a BBC Radio interview Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a muslim writer, said that she felt it hypocritical for British politicians to lecture countries like Iran on human rights issues such as stoning given the Iraq war and the treatment of prisoners by British soldiers. Gavin Compton , a local government councillor in Birmingham then tweeted
; “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death. I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”
Following complaints he was then arrested and like Paul Chambers he claims it was a joke.
Much has been made of these two tweets and the similarity between the two cases. Whilst I would say it seems likely that neither person wanted the action they described to happen I would say that the major difference between them is that Paul Chambers’ “threat” was that he himself would carry it out. Gavin Compton was asking for somebody else to carry it out. Again I will say that I don’t believe either of them actually wanted the result they were speaking of but it does strike me that Mr Compton, a councillor and a barrister, should have known a lot better. Maybe Mr Chambers should have too but given the publicity over that case and the fact that Gavin Compton was writing about a single person it does strike me as odd that it did not occur to Compton that it could lead to his arrest. Personally I think they are both not to be taken seriously and that is obvious but of the two it seems to me that Compton’s is the more likely to cause harm because another person of questionable political leanings and perhaps somewhat less stable could carry out what appears to be a request.
The real problem is that now that Chambers has been convicted and his appeal has been turned down, the UK justice system has set a precedent. Whereas Compton might have been able to confess to lack of forethought and got away with some public berating, now he must be prosecuted if only on the grounds that taken out of context his tweet has the greater threat level to life. It’s extremely sad that what could be perceived as a terrorist act and a death threat respectively could not have been given greater thought before posting. But it is ridiculous that this is the kind of timewasting nonsense that makes it to a courtroom. In both cases it’s likely an example either is or will be made of the “perpetrator” but I have to ask: was one required at all?
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