Twitter joke costs man job, fines and rallies free speech advocates

And it's still going, two-and-a-half years later.


Jennifer Abel


Published May 30, 2012   Updated Jun 2, 2021, 4:27 pm CDT

Everyone knows you shouldn’t make bomb jokes in the security line at the airport. Apparently that goes for Twitter too.

On May 29, Paul Chambers was granted another hearing in the case of his Twitter bomb threat—a somewhat farcical two-and-a-half-year romp through a slightly peeved justice system, a critical employer, and a mildly rallied grassroots/minor celebrity movement inspired by a bad joke of a tweet.

In January 2010, as the island of Great Britain lay buried under record-heavy snowfalls, Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire closed due to the weather. This annoyed Paul Chambers, who tweeted his girlfriend:

“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!!”

The message eventually came to the notice of airport security staff, who took it very seriously—well, sort-of seriously. Four months later, in May, he was charged with “sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character,” in violation of the U.K.’s Digital Communications Act of 2003. He faced fines and court costs of £985 (roughly $1,500). He also lost his job over the incident.

Chambers had one appeal denied in November 2011, and another last February. But his battle is not yet over. On May 29, he learned he would be granted another hearing before a three-judge panel, though a date for the hearing has not yet been set.

Chambers has won some high-profile supporters for his case, including British comedian Stephen Fry. Plenty of rank-and-file Twitterers have also been following the story—and donating to Chambers’ legal fund—under the hashtag #TwitterJokeTrial.

Photo by Alan Cleaver

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*First Published: May 30, 2012, 5:19 pm CDT