This morning, the Senate had a TSA oversight hearing to discuss serious issues around secure air travel, notably the use of see-through-your-clothes scanners and aggressive “crotchal area” patdowns. A highlight was the TSA head offering any of the senators that wanted one a sample patdown to experience it for themselves. No happy ending guaranteed.

For the patdowns and scanners, that is. “There must be a way to figure out how to do what’s necessary… and for the privacy concern to be addressed because it’s legitimate,” said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in her opening remarks.

Frequent flyers are increasingly annoyed with their air travel experiences, whether they’re being scanned, felt up, paying for extra bags, or having their flights delayed or canceled. One U.K. man turned to Twitter in January to vent his frustration when his visit to a lady friend in Ireland was thwarted by a snowstorm. Paul Chambers tweeted, “Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh*t together, otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

The British sense of humor tends to be dry. Chambers’s was too dry for the courts there. He was convicted of being a menace and ordered to pay $4,800 in costs and fines. When his appeal was denied last week, it caused an explosion on Twitter. And those protest tweets will soon be turned over to police…

As noted by the NYT and CNet, Chambers’s supporters let loose with a series of outraged tweets, all marked with the hashtag #IamSpartacus. They showed their solidarity with Chambers by threatening to blow other things up, including Parliament, the courthouse, the Robin Hood Airport, and Twitter headquarters.

Though it was fairly clear that Chambers was not serious about wanting to bomb the airport, he was convicted of “sending by a public communications network a message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.”

So what will happen to all these tweeps threatening to blow things up in support of Chambers? They’re obviously joking as well; will they be fined, too? We’ll find out. One group is staging a protest this Friday in Sheffield: Rally to protect satire, hyperbole, exaggeration, humour and flippancy on the Internet. From the event announcement:

We’ll be poking fun at the judgement, and the ridiculous situation in which Paul (and others) find themselves, through the time-honoured British tradition of taking the piss out of it. While we still can.

Bring funny signs. Wear costumes (but leave your sword at home, Spartacus). Have a laugh.

Unlike Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert’s Sanity Rally, this one has a point. It will culminate with the organizers giving a print-out of all the #IamSpartacus tweets, threatening to blow things up, to the police:

If tweets taken out of context can be evidence of criminality then does everyone who re-published Paul’s original tweet* share his guilt? Surely that’d be crazy, right? We’d like to find out. (And stop calling us Shirley.)

We’ll be collecting a dossier of evidence – printed screenshots showing the date, time and message we sent in apparent contravention of the law – and after the rally we’ll be submitting it to South Yorkshire Police.

So far, I haven’t seen any tweets threatening to blow up the protest.

Twitter airport bomb joker loses appeal, tweeters revolt [CNet]
Briton Loses Twitter Case, but Wins Following [New York Times]
Rally to protect satire, hyperbole, exaggeration, humour and flippancy on the Internet [EventBrite]


Kashmir Hill is an editor emeritus at Above the Law. She’s now at Forbes writing about privacy, and the lack thereof, in the digital age.


comments sponsored by

33 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments