Courts do seem to find it difficult to see the funny side of things. Especially in the United Kingdom, where the lawyers who plead their cases appear to wear very unflattering wigs.
So perhaps some might feel a little sympathy for Paul Chambers, who Monday was found guilty of tweeting "a message by means of a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003."
Some of you may not recall the contents and context of Chambers' tweet. He had met a woman on Twitter. He was to visit her in Northern Ireland. Then the snows came and he feared that his local airport, Robin Hood in Doncaster, U.K., would be snowed in, hence, perhaps ruining his chance for love.
So he tweeted to his 600 followers the following feelings of frustration: "Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"
I know, I know. He used a rude word. Worse, the matter was placed in the hands of the police because Twitter can be depressingly public. So Chambers found himself in court. And it was in court that, according to the Mirror, a few more interesting details came out.
It seems the tweet was only spotted when an off-duty manager at the airport did a Twitter search for "Robin Hood airport." Oh, and this wasn't immediately, but a few days after Chambers had vented his frustration. Even then, when the tweet was passed to the airport's head of security Steven Armson, he reportedly deemed it "non-threatening." Still, rules are rules and he had to pass it on the police.
The result was a fine and costs totaling around 1,000 British pounds. But, crucially, a criminal record. Chambers, who apologized to the court, had already lost his job as a financial controller. He reportedly told the court: "It did not cross my mind that Robin Hood would ever look at Twitter or take it seriously because it was innocuous hyperbole."
He has been inundated with messages of support and offers to pay his fine-- some, even, from famous people. 'Star Trek' actor Simon Pegg, for example, tweeted: "What a f***ing joke! What happened to 'motive'? Surely, what's meant as a joke only becomes felony when meant as felony. #twitterjoketrial." Pegg also wondered whether wars had been fought to preserve the right of free speech.
Now, Chambers is concerned that his criminal record will make it difficult for him from visiting his uncle in the United States. "Of course the worst thing is visiting my uncle in Vegas will be a bitch now. I don't much care for rubber gloves," he tweeted.
I confess I have been following Chambers' Twitter feed ever since he was arrested and even a cursory reading suggests he is merely the typical, occasionally potty-mouthed chap you'll meet in many a Yorkshire pub. Some will wonder, if he was found guilty in order to set an example, exactly what kind of example has been set.
One of Chambers' tweets Monday perhaps explains why he says that he is considering launching an appeal: "I'd like to thank the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) for their level-best efforts in f***ing up the life of an ordinary citizen. I love Britain."
Yes, Britain is, indeed, very lovable. On occasion.