- Investigative Psychology Professor, David Canter on the appeal judgement of ‘blow up’ tweeter, Paul Chambers.
Threats to organisations, whether it’s Tesco or Heathrow, the NatWest or the Houses of Parliament, are much more common than most people realise. The very great majority of them are issued anonymously in a fit of anger and never come to anything. Major organisations know this and assess the threat carefully, keeping quiet about it on the assumption that it is just someone venting their spleen. But every now and then the burst of anger backfires and the person making the threat finds himself (women are usually more sensible) at the heart of a police investigation, ending up in court. This happened with the unfortunate individual who suggested to his nine friends on Face Book that they should riot. None took any notice but he spent some months in prison.
Now an even more expensive fiasco has happened when Paul Chambers, 28, of Northern Ireland, was found guilty in May 2010 of sending a “menacing electronic communication”. He had got furious with Robin Hood Airport and tweeted “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!!”. If he had said it to his mates in a pub with a big grin on his face it would have been taken for the poor taste joke it was. Twitter, however, is a form of broadcasting that is too often taken more seriously than chat over a pint. But even with all its hash tags and clever abbreviations it does not carry any of the non-verbal cues that we absorb unconsciously in live conversation. So the tax payer paid a fortune in legal fees and police time, before a senior judge overturned Paul Chambers’ conviction and said what was obvious from the beginning that the tweet was “ridiculous banter”. As every aside on the internet gets increasingly scrutinised in our age of fear, the authorities are going to have to distinguish more clearly between intention and anger.
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