I was going to make another ‘How To’ style post today, but decided that I should put up my own ‘two cents’ (as I believe the term sits) on the recent decision of the Crown Prosecution Service in the matter of what had come to be known as the ‘Twitter Joke Trial’. I’m not going to bore you with all of the details, you can find most of the story here.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here for one second, if you’ll allow me: Twitter is a service that allows you to post information publicly. Which means that anyone is able to search through the database and find what you’ve been saying (for instance, you can find all of my tweets here), so Mr. Chambers must have known that anyone would be able to read his tweet (message on twitter). He’d mentioned Robin Hood Airport in his message, which meant that anyone searching for ‘Robin Hood Airport’ using the search function provided by twitter, would have been able to find his tweet, also.
Saying that, it was put across as a joke, an exclamation of his feelings, a badly worded criticism, but not an actual threat. This has been proven several times, not least of which by Mr. Chambers saying that he did not mean it as an actual threat, all the way through the systems in place at the airport that deal with actual threats each time one is issued, and all the way up to the Metropolitan Police, themselves. And beyond.
Although no one in the system believed that there was a genuine threat from Mr. Chambers, the systems we have in place meant that several reports had to be filled in, and information passed up the chain. It wasn’t until this information reached the CPS, that anyone took Mr. Chambers’ tweet seriously.
After a lengthy trial and a recent appeal, were most of the evidence consisted of the various paper pushers along the way saying that they did not believe Mr. Chambers’ threat to be serious, he was found guilty. Guilty.
Read that again. A person who posted a message on a micro-bloggin site showing his anger at Robin Hood Airport being closed was found guilty of plotting to blow up said airport. Regardless of all of the evidence that was stacked up, which stated that no one believed his message to carry an actual threat.
How is this possible?
One possible reason that has been bandied about on the same micro-blogging site, is that the members of the CPS involved didn’t quite understand what Twitter is, or what people use it for. The supporters of this theory say, ‘How are they [CPS] meant to metre out judgements on things that they clearly don’t understand?’
This is a big problem. How is someone supposed to pass judgement on something they don’t understand fully? I know that many people have an opinion on some of the things they don’t fully understand (The War on Terror, Israel/Palestine, etc) but these opinions don’t have a massive effect on one person’s life. Education is the key here. The members of the CPS should have been educated as to what Twitter was, and how and why people use it.
What does this mean?
After the reaction to recent changes in UK law regarding the internet, Intellectual Property and other related freedoms, how are we to take this attack on a persons freedom? After all, Mr. Chambers now has a criminal record. Does this mean that we all have to be on our guard and mark out our jokes and silly comments on our blogs/social media/micro-blogging? I think it does.
Some proof of this can be found by looking at the top of the ‘Trending Topics‘ list (a list of the most common things people are tweeting about), where you will find the hashtags (a way of linking a particular tweet to a discussion) TwitterJokeTrial and IAmSpartacus.
That shows how much interest this case is generating, globally. TwitterJokeTrial is the tag people are using to discus the whole topic and trial. IAmSpartacus is the tag people are using when quoting Mr. Chambers’ original tweet. An example is:
‘Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week to get your shit together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!! #IAmSpartacus‘
Food for thought? We will all have to keep a close eye on this situation to see how it unfolds.