Twitter users are up in arms after a British man who joked about bombing an airport on the social networking site was fined £1,000 ($1,500) and convicted of "menacing" behavior. Paul Chambers was arrested in January for tweeting "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!!" — a message he sent in frustration over the possibility that bad weather would ground his flight. Although Chambers insisted that his tweet was just a bit of sarcasm, he was convicted and fined during the summer, and lost a legal appeal this week. With civil-liberties advocates egging them on, Twitter users have been "re-tweeting" the message in protest using the hashtag #iamspartacus. Did authorities overreact?
So much for freedom of speech: Arresting and convicting Chambers for what was clearly a "flippant remark" is "simply a disproportionate response," says Jacob Rowbottom in The Guardian. Does this ruling mean that blog posts, tweets, or status updates "posted without a moment's thought" could end in criminal prosecution? The prospect is "chilling."
"Terror tweet case threatens free speech"
So much for the Brits' reputation for humor: This muzzles something Brits are rightly proud of, says Michael Cosgrove at Digital Journal: "Their unique brand of humor." A darkly irreverent attitude towards the establishment is fundamental to British comedy, as any Monty Python fan will know. I mourn the "freedom to make a joke."
"Opinion: Twitter, airport bombs, Muslim stoning and killing British humor"
This highlights the online world's punctuation crisis: If this "patently absurd" ruling teaches us anything, says Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post, it's that we need a punctuation mark to indicate sarcasm. In the rush of online communication, it's notoriously difficult to tell when someone is joking. Perhaps "none of this would have happened" if Chambers had been able to end his sentence with the much-discussed "SarcMark."
"After the U.K.'s Twitter Joke Trial verdict, we need a sarcasm mark"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How a degree from Duke University dashed my dreams of buying a home
- This is why you can't trust the NSA. Ever.
- Innocent before proven guilty? The bizarre bipartisan rush to clear Rick Perry
- Half the world's population lives in these 6 countries
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The single best way to help your kid succeed at school
- Today in history: Lincoln reveals the real goal of the Civil War
- ISIS and the echoes of the West's religious terror
- Inside America's crumbling infrastructure
- What Keeping Up with the Kardashians can teach America about interracial marriage
Subscribe to the Week