The law is playing catch-up on Twitter

From The Telegraph:

Twitter users should ask themselves if they would be happy to see their tweets reported in the paper.

On January 6 2010, Paul Chambers was impatiently waiting for a flight from Nottingham to Belfast to meet his girlfriend. It was snowing. Flights were delayed. His rage mounting, he did what we’ve all done in a similar situation: he vented a bit. But not to a friend on the phone, or a nearby passenger – to his Twitter account. He wrote a tweet:

“Crap, Robin Hood airport is closed, you’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together otherwise I am blowing the airport sky high!”

Mr Chambers thought he was sending out a “silly joke”, he said later. After an off-duty security guard at the airport discovered the tweet and in turn it was reported to the police they proceeded to prosecute Mr Chambers. It seemed clear to many that Mr Chambers had tweeted in frustration and didn’t seriously intend to blow up the airport, but the case went to trial and Mr Chambers was convicted. He became a cause celebre as comedians and celebrities rushed to support him. On appeal, he was cleared of all charges. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge and two other Judges noted that the message was not intended to be menacing. The decision highlights the difference between cases in which the language used in a tweet breaks the law, and cases in which the language is merely ‘frowned upon’ by a Court of Law, a distinction that will become clearer as there are more examples of case law leading to precedent being set. The limits of freedom of speech will continue to be tested.

This is a very significant case for everyone. Twitter is only six years old, but now has over 140 million active users in the world. There are an astonishing 10 million active users in the UK, says the company. When Twitter began no one could possibly have predicted how big it would become and how it would shape the way a generation communicates. For many young people, a Twitter account is as essential as Facebook or Google. They even use it in conversations. Talking about the Olympics last week one 14-year-old was heard to say to another in a conversation “Usain Bolt is a legend – hashtag London 2012”. It seems Twitter has actually changed the way young people speak.

In the past few months, we have seen the impact Twitter can have on governments, as the Arab Spring gained momentum from anonymous Twitter users who used it to spread information about protests. But there is also a dark side: during the Olympics diver Tom Daley was told in a tweet “you’ve let your dad down” – a reference to his father who died recently of cancer. He was also sent death threats. That led to the Dorset police arresting a 17-year-old and giving him a warning relating to his harassment.

Continue reading the rest of the story on The Telegraph