When is a joke not a joke?
The obvious answer is when it’s not funny. Now a joke is not a joke when a judge decides. I’m talking, of course, about the Twitter Joke Trial of Paul Chambers, who, last winter, tweeted: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh** together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
Today he lost an appeal against his conviction for “sending a menacing electronic communication” and has to pay costs of £2,600 in addition to the £400 from the trial in May.
His counsel Stephen Ferguson told the appeal hearing that even the police officer investigating the case branded it a “foolish comment posted on Twitter as a joke for only his close friends to see”.
He said the prosecution had failed to prove his client had any intention to threaten anyone or that he thought there was any risk someone would interpret the tweet in this way.
News of Mr Chambers’ appeal has reached far and wide, with the Washington Post suggesting that we need a “sarcasm mark” to make sure the humourless can tell when it’s a joke. I had to do a thorough search of the keyboard to find this wee chap: `.
I propose the “`”, because it seems as though this key sits on your keyboard all day long with nothing else to do, and also because it’s like a less enthusiastic air quote, which is sarcasm all over. If Paul Chambers had been able to put a ` at the end of his sentence, none of this would have happened.
Sure, a sarcasm marker might be dangerous in the wrong hands. Accidentally stick it on the end of “I love you`” and it’s lethal!
Instead, maybe we could have a Ministry of Jokes and Funny Walks and let the “authorities” pre-screen our attempts at humour. They could, of course, then just arrest us on the spot for our thought crimes. They could also insist that all future computers have an in-built taser which shoots out instant justice at the behest of the Ministry.
Another attempt at Twitter humour was committed by Tory Birmingham councillor Gareth Compton, who was arrested today after tweeting this about a Muslim journalist: Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing, really.
Okay, it’s not funny, but she is considered by many to be obnoxious and writes for the Independent (same thing?) and it was in the context of her appearance on Radio 5 Live where she discussed human rights in China.
They don’t have the right of free speech there either, nor, presumably, jokes.
Of course, in these humourless and unforgiving times, this resulted,
A Conservative party spokesman said that Councillor Compton’s membership to the party had been “indefinitely suspended” pending a further investigation.
The 38-year-old barrister, who has represented Erdington since 2007, later described his tweet as a “glib” comment and apologised for any offence caused.
“I did not call for the stoning of anybody,” he wrote.
“I made an ill-conceived attempt at humour in response to YAB saying no politician had the right to comment on human rights abuses, even the stoning of women in Iran.
“I apologise for any offence caused. It was wholly unintentional.”
It’s easy – maybe too easy – to tweet and send off an email or Facebook message without thinking very much. I have regretted some myself. At least when blogging, I have more time to consider what I am writing.
I have only ever suggested that death is a just punishment for the traitors who have deliberately changed the fabric of our society for political gain. And I wasn’t joking!