Paul Chambers, a 26 year old English man, has been convicted of “sending a menacing electronic communication” because he Tweeted to his 600 followers after finding out that his flight to Northern Ireland had been canceled. The Tweet in question? “Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”
The Tweet was brought to the attention of airport management days later, but was deemed “non-credible”, and did not affect the operations of the airport. Still, airport security’s procedures dictated that the message be passed on to Britain’s Special Branch.
He was arrested while at work, and has since lost his job. He was fined £385 (~$618), plus £600 (~$963) in costs.
He says that he never thought anyone would see it (except, of course, the 600 people who ‘follow’ him on Twitter), and didn’t expect anyone to take it seriously because it was “innocuous hyperbole”.
England has different standards of ‘free speech’ than we do here in America, but since 9/11, constraints both here and ‘across the pond’ are getting tighter. This Tweet was discovered because an airport employee did a Twitter-Search of the words “Robin Hood Airport,” it was not discovered using any kind of special monitoring technology (like the wiretapping controversy during Bush’s presidency). The Tweet was out there for all to see, if they wished to.
We are a bunch of Armchair Lawyers, here, and one of us is a real, honest-to-goodness lawyer. So put on your litigating caps, and apply them to this case. What do you think should have been done?
Applying American standards, do you think that the punishment – fines amounting to approximately $1500, and the loss of a job – fits the crime? Should he have been punished at all? After all, a Tweet is “speech”, and therefore, protected by the Constitution. Or, would this Tweet be considered akin to “yelling fire in a crowded theatre”, and be excluded from protection because it could cause havoc?