Few weeks ago, I published an article titled ‘What You Say On Twitter Can Constitute Defamation’ which looked at various individuals who have had to pay huge compensations through their noses for certain short tweets.
In that article, I mentioned that apart from being slammed with civil suits, it is increasing becoming popular for certain twitter users who ‘tweet before thinking’ to be cuffed with criminal liabilities.
At the time of my article, a British student- Liam Stacey, 21, had been arrested after allegedly tweeting a racist comment about Fabrice Muamba, the footballer who suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed during a live match. After a court battle, Liam Stacy was jailed in March, 2012 for 56 days for posting offensive comments.
Even though case laws from jurisdictions such as England & Wales, New Zealand, Australia and U.S.A have been developing to burden twitter users with both civil and criminal liabilities, it seems the social media platform users are not fully aware of the level of seriousness courts are attaching to their tweets.
If you have read my former piece, you would surely have come across the two teenagers who were looking to have a wonderful holiday in United States recently but were shocked to have been refused entry because of a tweet they sent saying “we are going to destroy America”.
In an English High Court yesterday, an appeal by Paul Chambers, 27, who was convicted in May 2011 for sending out a tweet, threatening to blow up a Yorkshire airport was reserved. The court that convicted him held that his tweet constituted a “menacing electronic communication”.
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Though Mr Chambers claims he did not think anyone would take his “silly joke” seriously, his conviction last year shows how tough the courts are getting on ordinary social media users.
The message Chambers tweeted stated; “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!!
Mr Chambers has explained that the above tweet was something silly he sent to his 600 followers in a moment of frustration after Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire was closed by snow in January 2010.
At the appeal in the High Court, Mr. Chambers’ lawyer argued freedom of speech and also contended that, for a message to be considered menacing, the person sending the message must intend to threaten the recipient and it has to contain a credible threat.
A challenge by one of the judges during the appeal on whether there was a genuine freedom of speech argument in the case seems to suggest that, the court is less likely to be swayed by the freedom of speech argument.
Whatever the outcome of the judgement would be, the lesson we should all take from Mr. Chambers and the developing case laws in relation to tweets is that, courts are very willing not to only slap twitter users with civil liabilities, but also criminal liabilities.
As I always say, the next time you push the SEND button on twitter, remember the law has changed and your tweet can fetch you a ‘gargantuan’ legal problem.