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July 27, 2012

Twitter Joke Trial Was Govt Posturing Gone Wrong

By Spear's

The Crown Prosecution Service seemed to think this was a bomb threat. Right-minded people thought it was a joke

The final resolution of the Twitter joke trial has been a happy one, with Paul Chambers, arrested for publishing ‘public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character’, successful in his appeal.

His menacing tweet, two and a half years ago, was this: ‘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!!’

The Crown Prosecution Service seemed to think this was a bomb threat. Right-minded people thought it was a joke. Perhaps not a funny joke, but not a serious indication of imminent terrorist activity. Chambers was convicted and lost his first two appeals. Mercifully, the judges in the second High Court appeal saw sense and declared there was no menace in the tweet.

That much was obvious from the start. So how did it get so far?

Accusing the CPS of a lack of a sense of humour is to miss a much larger point – they wanted to be seen to be acting against threats in unconventional media so they appeared both in control and up to date. The current and previous governments’ desire to regulate our electronic communications, with databases of texts, tweets and emails, reflects this too. There are certainly valid reasons to snoop on certain people’s communications, if there is credible evidence they are a threat – or would like to be.

The problem is that by presuming wicked intent, the innocent majority get condemned with the malicious minority, and the closer the government peers at most of us, the more our liberties are eroded, the greater the chances that our remarks may end up convicting us of intentions we never had.

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