‘I am Spartacus’: Twitter rises up for free speech

By Ian Dunt

Twitter users showed their support for free speech in their thousands today, as they backed a man fined for making a terrorist-related joke.

Users of the micro-blogging site repeated in full the tweet which landed Paul Chambers in trouble with the law last January.

“Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s**t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!” he wrote.

Having lost his appeal yesterday, Twitter users began tweeting his original message in full, together with the hashtag ‘#iamsparticus’ – a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 film in which rebellious gladiators are executed for refusing to let Spartacus carry the blame for the uprising.

The anger over the judgement against Mr Chambers yesterday was compounded by the separate incident involving a Tory councillor, who was arrested and suspended from the party for jokingly demanding the stoning of a female Independent columnist.

Gareth Compton tweeted about Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: “Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.”

Both cases involve someone making a joke which officials has interpreted as a threat, and are being treated as signs that the anarchic, free-wheeling nature of social media is under attack from overly restrictive legislation.

Mr Chamber’s prosecution relied on the use of 1930’s regulation against nuisance calls, not bomb hoax laws, which require more robust proof of intent.

Judge Jacqueline Davies said the tweet was “menacing in its content”.

She added: “Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”

Mr Chambers has been ordered to stump up another £2,000 in legal bills for the appeal, although leading Twitter user Stephen Fry has offered to pay it.