IP, Technology & Data

Did you hear the one about the guy on Twitter who joked about an airport? He experienced some turbulence.

The High Court in London has quashed the conviction of a man who was originally found guilty of sending a “threatening” tweet.

Paul Chambers was found guilty in May 2010 of sending a “menacing electronic communication” after he tweeted to his 600 Twitter followers:

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 maintained that his tweet was obviously a jovial expression of his frustration at the airport closing due to heavy snow.

Did you hear that the guy who threatened the airport on Twitter was cleared? He must have friends in high places.

“Out of date”, was the verdict of Lord Judge. Surprisingly he wasn’t referring to Stephen Fry and Al Murray, both of whom attended court in support of Paul Chambers. Lord Judge was actually admonishing the Communications Act 2003 under which Mr Chambers was charged.

Section 127 of the Act makes it an offence to send “by means of a public electronic communications network” a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. The Crown Prosecution Services website, in its website guidance on Communications Offences, advises that section 127 should be used for indecent phone calls and emails, but doesn’t refer to Twitter – mainly because Twitter hadn’t been invented when the legislation was enacted.

Why did the guy on Twitter threaten to bomb Robin Hood Airport? He wanted to steal from the rich and fly to Darfur.

The decision is a common sense one, but also a reminder of the perils of social media and the ease with which flippant comments can be easily misconstrued. There has already been £90,000 worth of libel damages for a 24 word tweet.

In particular employers would be advised, if they have not already done so, to implement policy on the appropriate use of social media. The ACAS guide “Workplaces and Social Networking: The Implications for Employment Relations” offers guidance as to good practice.

And for all the lawyers who visit Brodies Tech Blog to keep up to date, I would refer you to the Law Society of Scotland’s recent guide “Social Media – Advice and Information for the Legal Profession”.

Remember, different businesses will require different policies, depending on the extent to which each business expects its staff to utilise social media. Brodies’ technology and employment lawyers can help you to develop an appropriate policy for your business.

Heard the one about Twitter accounts being anonymous? The Net is tightening…

In the case of Paul Chambers, he didn’t seek to disguise his identity and was therefore easy for the authorities to identify.

But what about Twitter users who definitely wish to stay anonymous (and aren’t just vicious internet trolls, who deserve no anonymity)? A good local example would be whoever is running @rangerstaxcase, a Twitter account and blog that has won awards for publishing stories regarding the financial scandal at Rangers Football Club which the mainstream Scottish press failed to address.

At present the owner of spoof Twitter account @UnSteveDorkland, which makes fun of Northcliffe Media Limited’s chief executive Steve Auckland, is trying to prevent Twitter from revealing his details.

We wrote last year about the legal means of compelling Twitter to surrender details of account holders, in the context of Ryan Giggs and tweets about his super injunction which he wished to suppress.

It’s still not clear if Twitter will always co-operate in such circumstances. Nevertheless these developments create the impression that – while a presumption of anonymity on Twitter isn’t yet a joke, it is under serious threat – and that can’t be good for Twitter in the long term.

(Rubbish jokes are all my own. For lots more, and some occasional legal comment, follow me at @denislawyer.)

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