Paul J. Chambers was angry when his flight got cancelled due to a snowstorm. He decided to let out his frustration on Twitter by writing “Robin Hood Airport is Closed…You’ve got a week to get your [expletive] together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high.”
The tweet caused a massive stir. Chambers was convicted for causing a “menace” and the court ordered him to pay fines and court costs. Some free speech advocates were outraged by Chambers’ conviction claiming that the court had gone too far. These free speech advocates showed their support for Chambers by reposting his original message or writing other messages about blowing up important buildings and monuments. None of these supporters have been arrested or punished since the incident showing the difficulty of actually regulating speech in the cyber world.
Chambers was fired from his job in England after the incident. He then moved to Northern Ireland where he started a new job but was shortly fired from there as well once his new employers discovered his criminal record. Chambers is now unemployed.
When Chambers initially tweeted about his frustration at the airport being closed, he probably never envisioned receiving extensive media attention, losing his job or stirring up a debate about how far our rights to free speech actually extend.
The reason this story is so interesting is because it applies to all of us who use MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Many of us are guilty of mindlessly posting a status or a link that could be misperceived by those who do not know us. It is easy to forget that our sarcastic or humorous tones are not always conveyed through the dry text that appears on the screen.
So until we develop a font for “sarcasm,” “clearly joking,” and “utter absurdity,” we just have to be careful what we tweet.