Back in January 2010 Paul was flying from Robin Hood Airport, England (yes, we named an airport after Robin Hood…and what?) to Northern Island. It was a bitterly cold and snow had forced the airport to close. At this point most of us can empathize with Paul, he must have been feeling pretty annoyed to put it nicely. What he did next has haunted him for the last two years…
He reached for his phone, opened Twitter and wrote:
“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!!”
A week later an off-duty airport employee raised the alarm and sent the tweet up the ranks. Paul tried to pass off the tweet as a ‘joke’ but was convicted of sending a message of “menacing character” under the Communications Act 2003. The fallout for Paul is still unraveling, he is in and out of court, which is probably costing him a pretty penny, was fined £1000 ($1600) and given a criminal record.
Even in his understandable frustration Paul should have known better. In this day and age you simply can’t threaten an airport and be surprised if there are repercussions.
In my opinion the fine is justified, he did something thoughtless that resulted in a minor public panic. However should a ‘joke’ (no matter how distasteful) warrant a criminal record? And, to what degree does the fact that the ‘joke’ was sent on Twitter play in dealing out a criminal record?
To me this is a classic case of ‘where to draw the line’ – a joke to one person can be hilarious but potentially very offence and indeed menacing to someone else, in this case Paul’s Twitter followers and the public.
Deriving the ins and outs of what constitutes “menacing” and whether Paul was genuinely threatening the airport is for the lawyers to argue and the judge to decide. I am more interested in the effect this has on the policing of social media and our cherished freedom of speech…I’m not saying that threatening airports is ok but does this mean we can’t joke about committing crimes in general?
It’s the principle of the matter more so than I like to joke about crime. However there have been times when I ask myself, ”Should I post this? Will someone take it the wrong way? Will they realize I’m being sarcastic?”
If I was to tweet, “just seen an unlocked BMW, I’m going to steal it!” I wonder if I’ll get a knock on my door a few days later making sure that I’m not the proud new owner of a BMW…probably not.
What if I tweeted, “Hi @Rihanna you are amazing, next time I’m in LA I’m going to abduct you!” I honestly don’t know the ramifications of this, nothing could happen or I might receive a nasty Direct Message from her management or police might question me about my premeditated act of abduction, either way I’m sensible enough not to try it.
Either of these could be passed off as a joke but both categorically state that I intend to commit a crime, are they acceptable to be posted on Twitter? If so, do you think Paul should keep his criminal record? If not, should Paul keep his criminal record for a stupid mistake with minimum consequences for others?
Paul is still waiting to hear the verdict on his appeal; do you think he should have a criminal record?