is that a joke
There is an already huge and still growing noise and fury amongst twitter users about one of their soul mates who has lost his appeal against a conviction he received in May for sending a menacing electronic communication, which was a tweet threatening “to blow the airport sky high”. He was upset that Doncaster airport had closed because of bad weather.
It was just a flippant and pretty stupid remark that he says was meant as a joke (did anyone actually laugh at it?) and of course we all know (including police, CPS and courts) that he had no plan to do anything to the Robin Hood airport or any other. There have before been numerous tweets of similar content and style about all sorts of things that have upset the authors.
Now of course there are thousands of tweeters repeating the airport threat, and similar ones, to demonstrate their view that the law is foolish and inapplicable to internet based humour, and the legal authorities neither understand nor concede the right to make a joke on this modern medium. Predictably, some have quoted the enduring Dickens line “the law is an ass”, others have made much stronger and generally abusive or obscene statements. An understandable but not very helpful reaction. The tweeters cannot of course all be arrested and prosecuted; though some might. A number of famous people have rallied to the support of the guilty party and master tweeter Stephen Fry has offered to pay the fine of about £3,000.
So was the appeal court right ? Well, actually (at the risk of being seen as a traitor to all tweeters and bloggers) technically yes it was, but only because the legal process had got that far. Under the law, a threat is a threat, however unlikely it is to be actioned. There was no good reason offered by the defence as to why the verdict should be overturned. Does anyone think that defending a threat by saying it was a joke is new to the courts ? I assure you it isn’t.
The ramifications of a successful appeal would be hundreds of thousands of threats made on various phone and internet based communications mechanisms, some of which would be real and yet submerged under a sea of daft, supercilious and unfunny jokes. That can’t be allowed to happen, although if there is a High Court appeal then there is a fair chance of success, but it would have to be followed by a change in the law to prevent the problem of mass threats made over the internet (however humourous they are intended to be.
The focus on the appeal court decision is misplaced and the twittering has made its point and should now stop. The mistake was made at the trial when it became clear there was no 'mens rea' or intent. A further mistake was to have a district judge preside at the trial rather than a tribunal of magistrates who are more a part of the modern internet community and would have looked beyond the narrow semantics of the law and applied common sense. The words were certainly threatening but, importantly, in its context, the message was not. It could have been that simple, and should have been.
Alternatively, the perpetrator might have been advised to plead guilty and would probably have got away with a conditional discharge.
The final outcome may be a good, serious and even menacing message for the future : tweeters and bloggers need to be more careful.