Warning to all tweeters: don’t go over the top
Risque comments on Twitter can cost you dear. Hence today's virtual uprising under the banner IAmSpartacus
Two episodes played out yesterday suggest Twitter users would be well advised not to go over the top. Risque comments, even meant in humour, can bring the law down on you like a ton of bricks. As a result, there's been a virtual uprising on the social networking site in the past 24 hours.
First we have the case of Birmingham city councillor Gareth Compton, who heard the Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown opining about human rights in China on Radio 5 Live and was moved to go straight to his Twitter account and write:
"Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan't tell Amnesty if you don't. It would be a blessing, really."
Within hours, Compton had been arrested by the police and had his Conservative party membership suspended "indefinitely".
The West Midlands Police got him under the 2003 Communications Act for sending "an offensive or indecent message". He was later released on bail.
Compton was objecting to Alibhai-Brown saying that no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran.
Compton later apologised - any offence was "wholly unintentional" he said - but it was a little late.
Given the nature of his remark, there has been very little sympathy in the blogosphere for Compton. This is in marked contrast to yesterday's second Twitter case - an appeal by former accountant Paul Chambers against a conviction in May for sending "a menacing electronic communication".
Chambers is the man who got frustrated one cold night in January when Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire was suddenly closed by snow and tweeted:
"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!"
Yesterday a judge refused to overturn the May ruling that Chambers should be fined £1,000 for his "menacing" post and ruled that, in addition, he must pay costs of £2,600.
This was despite Chambers's barrister arguing that there was clearly nothing "menacing" about the message and that even the police officer investigating the case saw it as a "foolish comment posted on Twitter as a joke for only his close friends to see".
Chambers, 26, has received so much sympathy that by last night the hashtag #twitterjoketrial was among Twitter's trending topics worldwide. By today, a new wave of support had materialised under the hashtag #IAmSpartacus.
Just as his fellow gladiators showed their solidarity with the folk hero in ancient Rome by proclaiming "I am Spartacus", thousands of people have copied Chambers's original message, word for word, and retweeted it, making #IAmSpartacus the most popular subject on Twitter in the UK.
Among those who have passed on the message are the television personalities and comedians, including Davina McCall, David Mitchell and Marcus Brigstocke.
One of Chambers's earliest supporters was the inveterate tweeter Stephen Fry who, appalled by the original conviction, promised to pay his fine for him.
After yesterday's hearing, Fry tweeted: "My offer still stands. Whatever they fine you, I'll pay."
But friends of Chambers say the fine isn't the real problem. As his partner tweeted: "We are gutted. It's not the fine, this is stopping Paul getting a job and has ruined his life." ·
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