Monday, October 11, 2010

The Right to Offend: Terrorist Tweet

I've always cautioned my children not to make any jokes about bombs when we go to the airport because security people do not have a big sense of humour. Check out what happened to one British man when he used a social networking site to make such a joke.

A recent article in the UK paper The Guardian noted

...he tweeted to his 690 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!!"
His lawyer argued the case in court, noting

"This [message] is obviously facetious," he said. "There are at least three exclamation marks. The first to add to the slightly naughty word 'crap'. The last two to the parody of 'to blow the airport sky high'."
The paper concludes:

In a case with echoes of Chambers' trial, US standup comedian Joe Lipari also landed in court on terrorism charges following an outburst on Facebook over the state of his iPhone.

He bought the phone a year ago and, after it repeatedly crashed, took it back to the Apple Store in Manhattan. They tweaked it, it crashed again, and the next day he went back to get a replacement. After waiting hours he stormed home with no replacement and, while watching Fight Club, updated his Facebook status in parody of a cherished line from the film: "Joe Lipari might walk into an Apple store on Fifth Avenue with an Armalite AR-10 gas powered semi-automatic weapon and pump round after round into one of those smug, fruity little concierges."

In no time at all plain clothes police armed with MP5 machine guns were knocking on his door. It didn't help that he had been smoking dope and found the whole scene hilarious, amusement that continued into court, where he was charged with making terrorist threats.

His case is currently adjourned and expected to be dropped.

What do you think about this? Is some speech too explosive, even if it's said or written in jest? Is this what Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes meant when he talked about falsely shouting fire in a crowded theatre? Or do authorities need to lighten up?

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