That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore
November 14, 2010 5 Comments
Accountant Paul Chambers was back in the news this week, after he lost his appeal against a conviction for sending a “menacing message”, specifically an ill-advised tweet in which he humorously threatened to blow up Robin Hood Airport in Nottingham. The case has prompted a flurry of indignation around the Twittersphere, with supporters complaining about censorship, and rallying to show solidarity by retweeting Chambers’ offending message.
I’m not sure how to feel about this issue. I’m all for freedom of speech, but I’m finding it hard to get too outraged about this limitation of my liberty to issue prank terroristic threats on the internet.
It reminds me of how, back in the old days, when one was standing in line at the airport, one would occasionally hear some wise-guy “joke” with the security staff with some variant of “Don’t look in there mate, that’s where the bomb is, ha ha”, which would be met with an icy smile, but no further action. Then, after 9/11, these irritating but otherwise harmless jackasses started getting hauled off to jail, and pretty soon that brand of humour disappeared. It’s difficult to say that the world is a poorer place for its passing.
That said, I guess on balance my sympathy is with Chambers, since I think that momentary stupidity, while clearly regrettable, shouldn’t actually be against the law. His faux pas is another illustration of how social media are blurring the distinction between public and private in ways that can have unexpected results. What’s passably funny when recounted to one’s immediate circle may be less amusing when it is relayed to the whole world.
I expect that, as immersion in electronic social networks becomes the norm, people will develop a keener sense of what to share and what to keep to themselves. The law will probably take longer to catch up though, so I’m going to make sure that all my tweets remain thoroughly anodyne, and not susceptible to any misinterpretation whatsoever – certainly nothing that’s too near the bone.