Tweet and sour reaction to that bomb 'joke'
LET ME tell you a story about something that happened to my cousin’s gardener. He and his family were approaching the security gate at Orlando airport when his daughter began arguing about bubble gum.
“You’ve got the gum! Give me the gum!” she shouted at her dad. Well, a dozen men in flak jackets suddenly sprang from the shadows, produced machine guns and marched the family into detention. They thought she’d said: “You’ve got the gun.” Honest. It’s true.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, saloon bars have buzzed with apocryphal stories about innocent travellers being hauled off to solitary confinement for wearing aggressive T-shirts, lacing their shoes in the Islamic style or having suspiciously bushy moustaches.
On first hearing, the “Twitter Joke” trial sounds like just such a tall tale. If you’ve missed the details, here’s what happened. In January 2010, one Paul Chambers was preparing to travel from the quaintly named Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster to visit a new acquaintance in Northern Ireland. Upon finding the flight cancelled, he turned to stupid Twitter. “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise Im blowing the airport sky high!!” he tweeted.
A week later, an off-duty airport employee saw the message (how?) and set the creaky wheels of justice into motion. Chambers was convicted for sending a message of “menacing intent” and fined £1,000.
Happily, he and his lawyers are not taking it lying down. Last week, their latest appeal reached the high court in London.
One hardly knows where to begin when addressing the story. It reads like the plot for an allegorical Czechoslovakian protest play from the Warsaw Pact years.
It would be unsurprising if the judge turned out to be an animated statue and if Chambers lived life as a talking squirrel. (Those plays were a bit like that, you understand.)
Considering the misery Twitter brings to honest folk’s lives – so many poisonous dollops of malicious gossip spread by yellow-backed bullies – it seems remarkable the state is bothering with a case that doesn’t involve any conspicuous victims. Given that nobody spotted the tweet for a week, we can safely assume airport security did not move towards red alert. No more flights were delayed. No panic ensued.
The appeal has drawn a number of high-profile comedy professionals to the court. Stephen Fry, Al Murray and our own inestimable Graham Linehan all turned up to offer Chambers their support. They argue that the right to free speech is at stake.