"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!"

That single frustrated tweet to a handful of friends after weather closed Robin Hood airport last January, lost Twitter user Paul Chambers his accountancy job, landed him with a court fine, a sizable legal bill after a failed appeal against conviction, and plenty of unwanted publicity.

People are now saying things in public that would once have remained private. They are doing so a huge scale - Chambers is reported to have tweeted 14,000 times in a year - and they are doing so with an immediacy unthinkable even three years ago because the technology barely existed.

The world of communication is changing front of our eyes and the judiciary and the authorities seem to be stuck with concepts of discourse that are 30 years out of date. A gulf has not so much opened up as become apparent.

The first symptom of this gulf is that England’s tweeters have been left fearing for the future of flippancy, the right not to be taken literally when saying something, and worrying whether the country’s judges fully grasp the law of unintended consequences when it comes to precedent and free speech.

To make matters more absurd, a large number of Twitter users have tweeted an identical message in protest at his conviction. None of these users are likely ever to be prosecuted, and so the gulf yawns ever wider.

What’s striking about the ‘Twitter joke trial’ is the extraordinary contrast between the two sides of this debate, those who think such comments should be taken at face value, and those (the overwhelming majority) who think that ignoring the context of a statement has led to one of the most apparentlky warped judgements in the recent history of the English judiciary.

“We take the view an ordinary person seeing this would see it in that way and be alarmed. The airport staff did see it and were sufficiently concerned to report it,' said Judge Jacqueline Davies during the appeal hearing.

“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.”

The judge decided to assume that Chambers’ tweet was that of a man announcing an imminent terrorist act, or at least that people would take it to be real.

Prosecuting ordinary citizens for daft remarks deliberately taken out of context does not make the country safer from the real threats if faces and serves to reinforce the  feeling that a culture of knee-jerk over-reaction to almost everything has now burrowed deep into official culture.

My own view is that the judge has done English free speech advocates a favour by reminding them that the right to open and sometimes careless expression should never be taken for granted. It has also reminded the tweeting smartphone set not to assume that everyone thinks the way they do. Public administration moves more slowly than technology. This is a given.

The law has been an ass, as Dickens wrote in Oliver Twist, but at least people now know where they stand. (Please note: that last remark was flippant sarcasm and should not be taken literally.)