The Twitter Joke Trial: What Does It Mean For Freedom Of Speech

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The biggest debate online today has undoubtedly been around the twitter joke trial, and what the outcomes mean for free speech online.

For those who aren’t familiar with the case, the whole thing started when Paul Chambers, a 27-year-old accountant jokingly tweeted that he was going to blow up Robin Hood airport, near Doncaster, if his flight was delayed or canceled due to heavy snowfall.

He has since been convicted of “menace” and fined. The debate stepped up when Stephen Fry, offered to pay Chambers’ fine and legal costs, amounting to around £3,600, tweeting
“My offer still stands. Whatever they fine you, I’ll pay.”

Now a Conservative councilor, Gareth Compton has also been arrested under the same legislation used to convict Mr Chambers, after tweeting that journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown should be “stoned to death”.

While both Compton and Chambers comments were hugely inappropriate, you really do have to wonder if they should be legally reprimanded. By its very nature, Twitter encourages spontaneous comments that are for the most part not premeditated and while there are always consequences to your actions, it is evident that neither of these men posted these with actual malicious intent.

For freedom of speech campaigners this landmark ruling is worrying as it could be used to set a precedent which would see our comments on public sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, open to legal action.

Twitter has been buzzing about the story all day as the #twitterjoketrial tag trended and users retweeted and created spoofs of Chamber’s original tweet. I believe what both men said was undeniably wrong, however, also believe that it is important that online freedom of expression is maintained.