Tweeters of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your computer... and (if you insist on quibbling) maybe your smartphone, a thousand quid or so, and your job. But come on, you must have seen Spartacus -- power to the people!
That was the message swirling around on Twitter over the weekend -- or at least words to that effect -- as tens of thousands of tweeters around the world expressed solidarity for Paul Chambers, a 27-year-old accountant from Doncaster convicted under the Communications Act for tweeting a joke about bombing Robin Hood Airport.
The offending tweet read as follows: "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!!"
Chambers sent the comments to all 650 of his followers in January 2010, partly in jest and partly in frustration over heavy snow and the possible cancellation of a flight to Belfast, which threatened a trip to visit his Irish girlfriend.
Shortly after sending the tweet, the police arrested him, impounded his iPhone and two computers, held him for seven hours in a police cell, and then subjected him to lengthy questioning. Chambers also lost his job as a financial manager over the incident.
On Thursday, to compound the misery, Chambers lost his appeal against the conviction (and the accompanying £1,000 fine) as district court judge Jacqueline Davies found the tweet "menacing in its content and obviously so."
She added that "anyone in this country in the present climate of terrorist threats, especially at airports, could not be unaware of the possible consequences of sending it."
After the decision was announced, tens of thousands of people rallied to support Chambers on Twitter by retweeting his original message under the hashtag #IAmSpartacus -- a reference to the Kirk Douglas film in which rebellious gladiators under threat of crucifixion express solidarity with their leader by each proclaiming "I am Spartacus".
By Friday afternoon, #IAmSpartacus became the most popular worldwide subject on Twitter, shortly followed by #TwitterJokeTrial.
Celebrities, including Davina McCall, David Mitchell, Dave Gorman, Graham Linehan and Marcus Brigstocke, also rallied to the cause. Stephen Fry even offered to pay Chambers's fine.
Chambers has yet to disclose whether he will pursue a further appeal, however, as he has already incurred around £3,000 in legal costs and fines.
- #IAmSpartacus campaign explodes on Twitter in support of airport joker (Guardian)
- Free speech (Findlaw.co.uk)
- Legal Q&A (Community)
- Find a solicitor (Contact Law)