A recent High Court judgement didn’t seem to get much attention. Paul Chambers, who had been found guilty of sending a menacing tweet in which he joked about blowing up East Midlands Airport, had his appeal upheld.
In their judgement, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Griffith Williams delivered some welcome and sane clarification on the status of a tweet
Tweets’ include expressions of opinion, assertions of fact, gossip, jokes (bad ones as well as good ones), descriptions of what the user is or has been doing, or where he has been, or intends to go. Effectively it may communicate any information at all that the user wishes to send, and for some users, at any rate, it represents no more and no less than conversation without speech.
Barely week later we see the same ’mix of rage, portentousness and crassness that is the hallmark of the medium’ (as John Kampfner in the Guardian put it) in the wake of some ill-considered but highly publicised tweets about Olympic diver Tom Daley.
As Kampfner puts it: ‘The best response to cruel, offensive or disgusting tweets, like the one about Tom Daley’s father, is simply to ignore them’.
I don’t think this gives carte blanch to say whatever you like on Twitter: civil law on libel and defamation still applies, as does criminal law on discrimination, but the judgement does suggest that the police and courts ought to be able to distinguish between direct incitement to violence and ‘frustrated silliness’.