Not funny, not funny at all

Ooops.  This one got through the net without all its facts checked and links in place.  I know I should finish editing it, but life is short and events have moved on. May 2013


Orwell portrayed a world where people feared Big Brother’s ability to monitor their every move. Our reality is stranger: it seems we crave attention so much that we rush to open up our lives to the public gaze, authoritarian or otherwise. And not just the wannabes on X-Factor, but those of us who tweet and blog as well.

The online reactions to the twitter joke trial and the joke itself shine a light on how we think about private and public spaces online, and just how much we have handed over to those in power.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the twitter joke trial until the #iamspartacus hash tag splashed itself all over my twitter feed and @TwJokeTrialFund raised the £10,000 needed for his appeal in [nnn[ hours. Paul Chambers was found guilty of [charge] and [sentence]. The criminal record means that Chambers cannot qualify as an Accountant, so his career has gone up in smoke. All in 140 characters or less:

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!!

Now there are a lot of different strands to this, and we need to disentangle them. It’ll help if I pin my colours to the mast. (Your colours may vary, and that’s ok).

Firstly of course the punishment indeed disproportionate: I’m prone to flippancy myself, and I’d hate to lose my job and my ability to qualify in my career and get a criminal record for nothing more than a throw away remark.

However, and this is important, what Chambers did was stupid.

Katherine Whitehorn used to sense-check her plans for children’s activities by asking herself “what would the coroner say?” and it’s a useful question to ask. If this goes completely tits up, what would the headlines be? What criminal prosecution would ensue? Could I end up with a Darwin?

Tweeting threats to blow up an airport is stupid, no matter how common that sort of joke is on Twitter. It’s been likened to shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre, which is [reference’s] famous example of the limit to freedom of speech. Let’s be clear; if the security guys at Robin Hood airport had seen the threat but not drawn it to the attention of the police, or if the police hadn’t then checked that Chambers isn’t a terrorist, then they would themselves have been criminially negligent as custodians of public safety. It would be lovely to live in a world where people aren’t killed and maimed by terrorists

I’ve read several counters to this argument, and to save you the time, I’ll post them here:

But you just don’t get Twitter

Hang on a moment here, who doesn’t get it? Who’s behaving as if the new world is the same as the old world? Twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere aren’t the pub, but we behave as if they are. So I am not won over by this argument, or by the tweeters saying “but he didn’t me-e-e-e-ean it”.

But lots of people make jokes on Twitter

Yeah, and..? Lots of people smoke. Lots of people eat so much that their weight damages their health. The fact that “lots of people” do something does not make it either intelligent or morally right.

But we shouldn’t have to live in a world where we jump at shadows all the time

Yes. I agree. But we do.

So what do we have here? As I said, we have several strands:

  • Stupidity which can indeed be characterised as criminal stupidity – and I feel for the guy, I really do
  • Apparent opportunisim by whoever still has Chambers’ posessions – and that really isn’t ok
  • Disproportionate consequences – Chamber’s supporters are right, what has been done to him is not fair
  • Two groups staring at each other across a generational or cultural divide and saying “you just don’t get it”

The orginal draft of this post ended like this:

It is Chambers’ irresponsibility which stopped me claiming to be Spartacus. My position is logically identical to anyone whose sympathy for the McCanns is tempered by the thought that they should never have left the children unsupervised.

But now I think that conclusion is fair but harsh, because I’ve changed my mind slightly after reading the pages I’ve linked to.

What has been done to Chambers is unfair and disproportionate. Yes, the Robin Hood Airport were right to get him checked out, but he should have been slapped across the wrist and told not to do it again, like a kid caught scrumping apples.

Two stupids do not make good sense.

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7 responses to “Not funny, not funny at all

  1. Ben, I agree with what you say.

    What get’s me is this: “but he didn’t me-e-e-e-ean it”. One way to make space in overcrowded prisons is to release all those people who “didn’t mean” to do what they did that caused them to be incarcerated.

    Sympathy to the Chambers guy but, the way the world is, think before you tweet. Not everyone will get the “joke”.

  2. Hmmm. I must have decided not post this, and then used it to trial out the “schedule” feature.

    I wonder if I’ve got any other updates up my sleeve?

    • I really do try not to use the “never” word – exception proving the rule, here goes – BUT I never ever watch so-called reality programmes. Tweets are few and far between as there are numerous twits out there without me adding significantly to the number; also more twitters with more relevant and interesting things to say than this scribbler.
      E-mails? Now they are another thing altogether.

      (The above is a response to the feature that appears to have been posted under the “schedule feature” which popped up in my inbox but not here on wordpress evidently. Intriguing!)

  3. I am just researching this story for some coursework and your article has been really helpful. I just don’t see why some people want to plaster these comments on the internet at all. I think the case against Paul was a bit harsh but then again you can’t make comments about bombing somewhere as a joke as people can’t see your face and judge the intent.

  4. Agree entirely – a joke said in person is one thing as the audience can interpret more than just the words, a joke over the internet is just words to be interpreted by whoever, however they deem fit.

  5. This *just today* showed up in my feed 😎

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