The case of a UK man who was prosecuted for making what many believe was a joke post about blowing up an airport on Twitter appears to be turning into a free speech cause celebre.
"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!!" Paul Chambers wrote to friends in January after Robin Hood airport near Doncaster was closed due to bad weather.
Unfortunately, the airport took his flippancy literally, taking him to court in May for breaching an obscure telecoms regulation. Chambers this week lost his appeal and has been left holding a reported £3,000 legal bill plus a £1,000 fine.
The failed appeal has now generated a ‘twitlash’ against the decision with many thousands of users re-tweeting his precise message under the hashtag ‘#Iamspartacus’ in protest, egged on by a number of celebrities, including British comedian and writer Stephen Fry.
That tens of thousands of twitter users have repeated the same phrase that got Chambers into legal trouble makes English law look foolish, and raises the issue of why he was pursued in the first place.
The strong balance of views on Twitter is that he was making a flippant joke and that the authorities and appeal judge who ruled this week should have taken this into account.
“We find it impossible to accept that anyone living in this country, in the current climate of terrorist threats, would not be aware of the consequences of their actions in making such a statement,” said appeal case judge Judge Jacqueline Davies this week in a statement that has been widely criticised.
In a separate Twitter controversy, Conservative councillor Gareth Compton was arrested for tweeting "can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really," in response to comments made by journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown regarding Prime Minister David Cameron’s trip to China this week.
Twitter messages in support of for Compton, using the same phrase he used, now appear to be proliferating on the service.