The High Court in London recently handed down a decision that seems in accordance with reality, overturning the conviction of a man who made a joking threat on his Twitter account.
Tweet Was No Joking Matter
The case arose out of an incident that took place in January 2010, when a disgruntled airline passenger published a snide tweet in response to the inclement weather that shut down the airport he was flying out of.
Paul Chambers posted: “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!!”
Probably more surprising than the court overturning the conviction was the fact that the tweet had been interpreted as a serious threat in the lower courts. The High Court decided the appeal on the basis that the tweet, “did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character[.]”
While I completely understand the need to take threats seriously, particularly when they are remotely related to airports or airlines, this tweet was: 1) seemingly clearly a joke based upon the context; and 2) not acted upon until after the passenger had already returned to his normal working routine.
Under U.S. law, threats may fall under protected free speech unless they seem to impart a sense of imminence or a call to specific action. In other words, threats that seem likely to occur within a certain time frame and under certain circumstances are not considered to be protected, and are potentially actionable offenses. It brings to mind a certain catchphrase from the Joker's repertoire, but Batman jokes seem potentially in bad taste considering recent unrelated current events.
You can read the full High Court opinion here.
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