#IAmSpartacus tweeter Paul Chambers wins appeal over joke bomb tweet
It brings to an end an incident, since dubbed the #Twitterjoketrial, that took place more than two years ago and has been hanging over the head of Chambers ever since.
Chambers was initially fined and ordered to pay costs at Doncaster Magistrates’ Court back in May 2010 after being convicted of sending “a message of a menacing character”, contrary to provisions of the 2003 Communications Act.
He then lost a November 2010 appeal as he was told by the judge that his tweet sent to his 600 followers was “clearly menacing” and that airport staff were concerned enough to report it.
In the months and years since the incident first came to light, others have found themselves in similar hot water because of similar tweets, intended as jokes or otherwise, whether it is Courtney Love paying out in a libel case, the two friends deported from US after “destroying America” tweet or most recently the student who was jailed over his tweets about footballer Fabrice Muamba.
Chambers pretty much summed it up when he said that “its ridiculous it ever got so far”. While Louise Mensch, who happens to be Chambers’ MP, said the “CPS owe the whole country an enormous apology for having wasted public money and put him through two and a half years of serious stress for what was a joke”.
All true, true, but it also underscores, as do those other cases, why you should think before you tweet, no matter who you are, as while his followers almost certainly saw his tweet for the joke it was intended the Crown Prosecution Service did not.
And we have all been there with comments taken out of context online. Some can be quick to take offense. So it always pays to be on the safe side and make sure all concerned know you are #joking.
Point to remember here, says Vanessa Barnett, partner at Charles Russell LLP, is that Twitter is not the pub:
“Paul’s successful challenge of his conviction is good news indeed for all users of Twitter. The courts had gone overboard in terms of their treatment of him. But we should not see this as an invitation to say anything we like on Twitter – things that are crimes will still be crimes and many things in poor taste are still, rightly, illegal. It’s Twitter, remember, not the pub.”
That said, the fly in the CPS ointment has always been that it waited a whole five days to act. That really underscores what a huge time waster this whole process has been legally.
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.”
Chambers who has always maintained his tweet was a joke received a huge amount of support from Twitter users. It gave rise to the #IAmSpartacus hashtag as many thousands tweeted in support after he had jokingly tweeting his girlfriend he would blow Robin Hood airport up after becoming frustrated with delays back due to snow in January 2010.
Outside of court today Chambers said: “I am relieved, vindicated – it is ridiculous it ever got this far. I want to thank everyone who has helped, including everyone on Twitter.”
Chambers has paid a high price for his humour. He lost two jobs because of his conviction. Hopefully, he can now move on.