Social Question

Mat74UK's avatar

Should there be free speech on Social Networking sites?

Asked by Mat74UK (4649points) November 22nd, 2010

Twitter users are backing a man convicted and fined for sending a tweet threatening to blow up an airport after he failed to have his conviction overturned. Is the Twitter community right to back Paul Chambers?

Earlier this year, accountant Paul Chambers was convicted for sending a menacing electronic communication when he tweeted: “Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week..otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high”.

The Twitter community is angry that a judge at Doncaster Crown Court has refused to quash his conviction. Free speech advocate Index on Censorship said: “The verdict demonstrates that the UK’s legal system has little respect for free expression, and has no understanding of how people communicate in the 21st Century.”

Is the judiciary out of touch with social networks? Should there be tighter controls on views expressed on social networking sites? How should the British legal system adapt to include social networks?

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49 Answers

FutureMemory's avatar

Making a terrorist threat, or any sort of threat for that matter, is not something that should be protected as ‘free speech’. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a social networking site. A threat is a threat. Fuck that guy.

Summum's avatar

Threats should not be considered free speech. I think there is a difference. One can object to anything they want without the threat of harm or killing.

iamthemob's avatar

Speech in any and all forms should be governed under the same general standards – and I think that this is exactly what has happened in this case.

Although threats made over social networks should be examined for credibility, that entails investigation. The man made a threat about bombing the airport on a social networking site for an untold number of people to see.

Had he stood in the middle of the airport and made the same statement, or made it to an airport official…would there be any question as to whether the government would be right to arrest him? I don’t think so.

marinelife's avatar

Free speech does not include the right to make threats of terror activity on any medium.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s Twitter. It’s not free. It’s a company. They can allow or not allow anything they want. Twitter, as much as people might want to believe, is not a soap box in Hyde Park.

Besides, as everyone has already pointed out, even the soap box can not protect your right to make terroristic threats.

lillycoyote's avatar

This isn’t a free speech issue. Making bomb threats is a crime and as @imamthemob points out, this is no different than if he had said it at the airport, or anything other way for that matter. It’s the same if he tweets it, says it at the airport, calls it in, writes it in a letter; it’s a crime and the Constitution doesn’t guarantee your right to engage in criminal speech or slanderous speech, e.g. Free speech doesn’t mean that you are permitted so say anything you want anywhere you want. There are reasonable limits to free speech and this is one of them.

If you enter these search terms into google:

man convicted for joking about a bomb at the airport -twitter

it will give you a pretty long list of people other than the twitter guy who found out that joking about bombs is not only not all that funny, at least the in the eyes of law enforcement and the courts, but also a very, very bad idea.

poisonedantidote's avatar

To me, it all depends on the size of the site and what it is being used for.

Take fluther for example, it’s a medium size site that is owned by a couple of guys, they pay all the server costs and own it, and I am allowed to participate on the site based on their will to let me.

If a moderator deleted this very answer, would it be in violation of my freedom of speech? no. I could still take to the streets and say it as much as I like. I could write a book about it, sing a song about it, or do whatever I wanted, just not on fluther, a private business.

However, if we take youtube for example, also a private company, in their case, I think they have no right to delete anything I say at all. The reason being, that even though it is a private company just like fluther, youtube lets presidential candidates run on their site, fluther does not. To me, once it reaches a level where real life political decisions are made or influenced on a site, that site no longer has any right to censure or moderate its users in any way shape or form.

As for this twitter case, It should be obvious to anyone that it is nothing more than a sarcastic remark. Anyone who thinks the taliban is operating on twitter, and communicating in the form of threats and plans disguised as jokes is retarded. If anyone should be in trouble here, it should be the legal system. To me, this is not a freedom of speech issue, rather an oppression issue, the government are trying to make an example out of him, and nothing good can come from letting the government win on this one.

There is a crime here, but the person making the threat is not this guy, the threat is coming from the legal system. They are basically saying “We are so determined to push our scanner machines and Orwellian bullshit on people, that we will press charges on anyone who compromises our agenda, even in joke form”.

This is basically a case of Intimidation and oppression. Theis is just an example of the government saying what they are going to do to people, and threaterning them with consequences is they exercise their legal right of protest.

EDIT: don’t threats have to be made to the person you are threatening? If i look you in the eye and say “im going to bomb you” Then that is a threat, but if I say to you in private, “I’m going to kill a stranger” then how is that a threat? surely he would have had to of emailed of phoned the message to the airport for it to count as a threat. On twitter, its basically aimed at the followers, so I don’t see how they could call it a threat, even if they where too stupid to understand its a joke.

Zyx's avatar

Everyone involved was/is wrong.

But the guy that said he’d blow up the airport was least wrong. Scaring idiots on the internet, no matter how much you’d like it to be, is not a crime. This was not a credible threat and thus a right to free speech applies. Clearly you need to watch what you say as your words have consequences just as your actions, but some composure would do legal systems all over the world a lot of good.

BarnacleBill's avatar

There is a huge difference between “I’m so angry; I wish I could blow something up!” and Robin “Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week..otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high”. The first is an abstract expression of frustration, and should be protected. The later is defined and specific, and is therefore constitutes a threat, and should be treated seriously. Was he expecting to be able to say, “Just kidding!”? How would one reasonably be expected to know?

poisonedantidote's avatar

@BarnacleBill The first one is an abstract expression of frustration, the second is a specific expression of frustration. You’ve got one week to change your mind, or im blowing you bombing you.

Zyx's avatar

@BarnacleBill It’s probably important to remember this message was not adressed to anyone associated with the airport or any authorities. I’m a strong supporter of anonimity and free speech everywhere because no measure of generalisation can be used to support reason.

The fact you don’t know who’s a “terrorist” doesn’t give you the right to assume everyone is, no matter what the moronic patriot act says. Innocent until proven guilty you brutal sons of bitches.

poisonedantidote's avatar

“Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week..otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high”. Maybe, it should count as a threat, because it is specific, and some people do try to blow up airports. but…

“Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week..otherwise I’m going to punch a puppy and kick a kitten” Would this still count as a threat? we can’t deny that people do abuse animals, there are entire organizations dedicated to stopping people from abusing animals. So why would this be any less credible.

See, here is the thing that is bringing my piss to a boil, it’s the fact that they are admitting that they only want to make an example of him. How do i know they are admitting it? well, they charged him as a “menace”. Call me crazy, but I think the 19 guys that did 9/11 where a little more than just “menaces”. A kid with a slingshot is a “menace”, someone who blows up airports is a terrorist.

If they seriously suspected, even for a moment, that this guy had any intention at all of blowing up an airport, they would have had him followed, and would have wanted to catch him with bomb making materials and a load of evidence, so they could put him away for life. There is no way on Earth, that police officers would risk a terrorist walking free, with the only punishment being called a menace.

It is painfully obvious, that this is just the government making an example out of some poor guy, in an attempt to say “don’t mess with us at all, cause we are super official and super awesome and this is all very serious stuff” When in reality, its just a joke, and a poor one at that. This whole thing is just an exercise in keeping the masses in line.

iamthemob's avatar

@poisonedantidote – Okay, that indeed is ridiculous. Investigation…sure. Arrest…well, stupid pays for what stupid does. A pursuit of charges and prosecution? Not so much. There’s an argument that doing so is necessary because law enforcement doesn’t need to spend valuable time and resources on things like this – but I think that the story thus far is enough to alert people that “Hey – people can hear you, and this ain’t anonymous!”

I’d be pissed if my tax dollars were going to be spent on that prosecution (not that I’m happy with all the other spending…;-)).

poisonedantidote's avatar

@iamthemob Yes, it is a waste. Personally, I would have had a couple of plain clothes cops follow him around for a day or two. Just on the off chance that he is some kind of nut. Nutters do happen, but that’s all it needed really, if that.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@poisonedantidote, you mention my address specifically with that threat, and I’m calling the authorities. :-)

Rights are balanced by responsibilities.

iamthemob's avatar

@BarnacleBill – I absolutely agree. But it is also up to us to say “Too far” to the government. The use of force by government authority is also balanced by its responsibility to protect our civil rights.

rooeytoo's avatar

If the threat had been ignored and the guy went through with it, then folks would be criticizing because he had “threatened” and was ignored. It is pretty much a lose lose situation for those making the decision of what to do.

I would rather err on the side of safety. It is said Bush was forewarned about 9/11 and ignored the information. Wouldn’t it be a different world today if he had heeded it instead.

I put it in the catagory of yelling fire in a crowded theater (when there is no fire).

Aethelwine's avatar

Sure, let these dumb asses say whatever they want on Facebook and Twitter. There have been 6 bomb threats since October at WIU, the university my son attends. A relative of the person making the threats mentioned something on Facebook. This helped catch the person making the threats. This jerk inconvienenced the students and authorities (including the FBI) in Macomb, Il. If you are going to make a threat anywhere, be ready to pay the consequences.

yeah, this subject is a bit personal to me

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

I seem to remember something in the Constitution that guarantees Americans freedom of speech. So at least here in America, yes free speech should not only be allowed, it should be encouraged.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Right, as stated in the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, to express information, ideas, and opinions free of government restrictions based on content. A modern legal test of the legitimacy of proposed restrictions on freedom of speech was stated in the opinion by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in Schenk v. U.S. (1919): a restriction is legitimate only if the speech in question poses a “clear and present danger” — i.e., a risk or threat to safety or to other public interests that is serious and imminent.

I’m not seeing how this guy met the test of information, idea, or opinion. He does however satisfy “risk or threat to safety.”

FutureMemory's avatar



You cannot say anything that comes to mind and expect to be free from potential legal repercussions. If I walk up to someone and say “I’m going to kill you”, they can have me arrested, and rightly so.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@FutureMemory I’m just stating what The Constitution says. You can say I’m wrong all you want but The Constitution says that you are wrong.

Blondesjon's avatar

In all fairness to Paul Chambers, Robin Hood airport did have his stapler.

iamthemob's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey – The First Amendment allows for there to be some restrictions on free speech, as long as such restrictions are judged to be reasonable. The Supreme Court has outlined several areas where and when free speech can be limited. Therefore, the Constitution actually is saying, along with hundreds of years of First Amendment jurisprudence, that it’s really you that appear to be wrong on this point.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@iamthemob Well I was talking about The Original Constitution before lawyers and politicians got a hold of it and created so many loopholes you could hula hoop in it.

Blondesjon's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey . . . you’re very young aren’t you?

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@Blondesjon Why does it matter? An opinion is an opinion no matter what your age is.

Blondesjon's avatar

Because your argument is a black and white, 1 and 0 argument of the very young. You’ve heard about free speech but don’t really have any idea what it truly entails.

For starters, you talk about, The Original Constitution before lawyers and politicians got a hold of it and created so many loopholes you could hula hoop in it.

Remember, this is the Constitution that was written by a group of wealth, white, slave holding landowners. They wanted the freedom to speak out against a monarchy that was affecting their bottom line, not spout off on Twitter because they were under the influence of, “thisisthefreespeechinterneticansaywhateverthefuckiwantwithnorepercussions”.

The biggest mistake that young folks make is in thinking free speech means you can say whatever you like, wherever you like. If you walked into my home and told me you were going to blow the place up I would be fully within my 2nd Amendment Rights to bust a cap in your ass.

Ideals are fucking great, until you apply them to the real world.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@Blondesjon Well for one thing I’m not very young. I’m not saying that free speech is always the smartest way to go, I’m just saying free speech is the freedom to say what you want. Everybody always says America is a free country (and I’ll admit, we have a lot more freedoms than most) but the fact of the matter is we are just like any other country, we are free to do whatever our government allows.

I know who the writers of The Constitution were but I’m not gonna pretend that I was inside their head and knew exactly what they meant and neither should you. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on inside anyone else’s head, especially not over 200 years ago.

I also didn’t say that free speech was repercussion free.

I was just kind of raised with the idea that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Unfortunately it has turned into “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will get me sued and or arrested.”

If I did walk into your house I would expect you to (as you so eloquently say) “bust a cap” in my ass! But the difference between Twitter and your house is I can’t physically hurt you on Twitter. I don’t always think people should use free speech, all I said was that The Original Constitution guarantees it and I seemed to miss the part where it says you can only use it (free speech) as long as you don’t hurt someone’s feelings. Maybe I should go study it again.

Blondesjon's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey . . . Maybe I should go study it again.

It couldn’t hurt.

poisonedantidote's avatar

@iamthemob I think you may have pinpointed the source of the problem. Free speech for everyone is a blanket statement that is almost objective, but “reasonable” is such subjective thing.

The term “reasonable” does not actually mean reasonable in this context, it means “opinion”. For a restriction to be reasonable, the person labelling it as reasonable or unreasonable needs to be formally trained in logic, otherwise it could just be some random guys irrational opinion. I don’t see how one judge can be authorised to call something reasonable when it would be so easy to find a different judge who would say the opposite. The whole “reasonable restrictions” things should go, or at least have “reasonable” defined according to who’s criteria an on what conditions.

poisonedantidote's avatar

side note: fallacy: appeal to tradition (re: the founders original intentions etc..)

laureth's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey re “I’m just saying free speech is the freedom to say what you want.”

It may help to re-read (or read) the First Amendment. To wit,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

If Fluther, for example, censors you, your right to free speech still hasn’t been violated. Know why? Because Congress had nothing to do with it.

Another thing to consider is that the Freedom of Speech doesn’t protect you from the consequences of what you are free to say. Benjamin Franklin had this to say about what should accompany the right to Free Speech:

My proposal then is, to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellow-citizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and break his head. If he conceals himself behind the printer, and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner way-lay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing. Thus far goes my project as to private resentment and retribution. But if the public should ever happen to be affronted, as it ought to be, with the conduct of such writers, I would not advise proceeding immediately to these extremities; but that we should in moderation content ourselves with tarring and feathering, and tossing them in a blanket.

If, however, it should be thought that this proposal of mine may disturb the public peace, I would then humbly recommend to our legislators to take up the consideration of both liberties, that of the press, and that of the cudgel, and by an explicit law mark their extent and limits; and, at the same time that they secure the person of a citizen from assaults, they would likewise provide for the security of his reputation.

In other words, you can say all you want, and we should have the same right to hold you accountable for what you say.

Also, by “The Original Constitution” – do you mean the Articles of Confederation?

Good night, and good luck.

laureth's avatar

Not that the Constitution has to do with Free Speech in Britain, but since we were discussing it, I thought I’d make a point. :)

iamthemob's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey – The problem with your argument is that you say “The Constitution says x” and at the same time “I don’t pretend to know what was in the heads of the writers of the Constitution.”

What is generally accepted is the fact that the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution (therefore, not part of the “original Constitution”) because many were afraid that the federal government would attempt to limit free and open democratic discussion.

Therefore, limitations on free speech were focused on the federal attempts to limit it, and provide baseline rights for the state governments. Taking the text on the face of it without resort to interpretation to some extent is, essentially, impossible – consider the many forms and myriad debate in the originalist approach to Constitutional interpretation. Complete free speech cannot possibly be the intent of the amendment, and historically free speech has been limited in specific circumstances. For instance, without any limits on free speech, there’s no recourse for copyright violations. Without it, there’s no recourse to someone publishing lies about you. And there’s no recourse to publicly revealing state secrets that end up causing the deaths of American citizens.

The Supreme Court, given the power under Article III of the original constitution to interpret the law, has attempted to give meaning to vague terms as “freedom of speech” as well as “cruel and unusual punishment” and “fair trial”, etc.

The text of the Constitution is step one of the analysis, always. If it were possible to stop there, there would be no need to amend the constitution, or have the Supreme Court, etc. – it is meant to develop with society, or at least be defined more clearly as cases and controversies arise that call into question whether certain laws are unconstitutional.

There’s a great resource with a comprehensive list of the Supreme Court cases interpreting the Constitution here.

TexasDude's avatar

Private company = their rules.

Public sphere = 1st Amendment

meiosis's avatar

Under English law, the crime of sending menacing communications is one of strict liability. The only test a court must make is “Did the defendant send a menacing communication?”. Mr Chambers did send it, so he IS guilty. His intentions are irrelevant.

iamthemob's avatar

@meiosisReally? Wow. Shouldn’t the communication, in order to be menacing, be sent with the intent to cause fear in a population of some sort?

The problem with that definition is that the government can investigate anything that could remotely be construed as a threat and then convict of menacing solely based on the fact that the government decided to investigate the statement!

meiosis's avatar

@iamthemob No, to prove any legal matter the prosecution has to pass the “Man on the Clapham Omnibus” test, whereby a reasonable person in full receipt of the facts, would agree. So the law isn’t open to flagrant abuse by the executive.

iamthemob's avatar

@meiosis – That’s a little better. I know you and I have different ideas about the form free speech should take, but because statements are subjective, it’s concerning that there’s a reduction in the review process applied to crimes related to speech.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@Blondesjon Look I’m sorry. I felt like you were attacking me (when you was insinuating that I must be young to have my point of view) and I got a bit defensive. I’ve read some of your post and you seem cool as hell to me. Plus anyone who has a wife as cool as JonsBlonde has to be cool.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@laureth You raise a good point. Congress does have nothing to do with any social networking sites, but on the other hand if the sites were created here in America there’s a part of me that thinks it should base it’s rules upon our federal Constitution.

But I must say I agree 100% that free speech does not mean you are free from the consequences, nor do I think you should be. I just think that sites should not censor what can be said. But if what you have said does break the law by threatening others then you should be punished accordingly.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@iamthemob Apparently I’m not being very articulate with what I’m trying to say. I’m not saying I support what the guy says, I just support the fact that he should not be censored. But if what he says breaks laws (which it clearly has) then he SHOULD face the consequences.

In other words, as an example, if I’m an asshole and I approach you and say something to you that is intentionally and extremely offensive, I deserve to be punched, but I think that if that’s what I choose to do, so be it. But I must be ready to face the consequences.

laureth's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey – It’s not that “Congress has nothing to do with social networking sites,” it’s that the networking site has made the rules – it’s not a law made by Congress. In a way, Fluther (or any other site) can be based on the Constitution and still censor speech, because they would surely help enforce any laws that Congress does make.

I’m surprised that someone who values freedom as much as you do would suggest that private companies be bound to make their own rules “based on the Constitution.” Are not the guys in charge of Fluther, or Facebook, or any other site, as free as you and I are? To say that they cannot mind their own space in a way that they see fit removes a lot of rights from business owners, and plays havoc with property rights in general.

Not only would we have to increase the number of cyber-cops on the internet beat, it would also be akin to me having to allow you to post any sign you wanted on my lawn, even if it said “Laureth is a total jerk!” Get offa my lawn.

iamthemob's avatar

@DerangedSpaceMonkey – the problem is that free speech is as much about punishment as it is about censorship. The government can prevent you from talking by enacting legislation punishing certain forms of speech.

That’s what nearly all of the free speech jurisprudence deals with.

mattbrowne's avatar

Besides threats I would add restrictions on hate speech apply as well.

Our Fluther moderators have already implemented this.

Thammuz's avatar

Personally, I think saying “i’m gonna blow the airport sky high” is way different from actually doing it. Convicting someone for being irate enough to vent on twitter, a state some people are constantly in, is seriously stupid stuff.

I mean, blowing up an airport is hardly an inconspicuous action, especially for a private citizen with no easy access to enriched uranium. He’d have to plant powerful bombs all over a hughe set of buildings, most of which requires specific The probably should have just run a background check, see if he had bought something that could be used to make enough bombs to “blow shy high” an airport, no small structure, if you’ve never been in one. Maybe question him, or search his home.

Arresting him? That’s a little too much. I’ve said and wrote time and time again I’d love to see “our” prime minister dead, by that logic I’d be in the slammer by now. True, i had the commonsense not to say it in Italian or on Italian sites, because in this country that’s most likely what was going to happen, but hey.

iamthemob's avatar

@Thammuz – As a private citizen, statements such as yours sound like they also would escape prosecution as they neither state an intent to commit an act yourself, nor specifically suggest that others take that action.

I agree with you that these limits on free speech seem contrary to my concept of what liberty in speech really should mean. But that’s also why I can say I’m proud that, at least in the case of one civil liberty, the U.S. is ahead of the curve in my opinion.

DerangedSpaceMonkey's avatar

@laureth You make a very good and interesting point,(I’m surprised that someone who values freedom as much as you do would suggest that private companies be bound to make their own rules “based on the Constitution.” Are not the guys in charge of Fluther, or Facebook, or any other site, as free as you and I are? To say that they cannot mind their own space in a way that they see fit removes a lot of rights from business owners, and plays havoc with property rights in general.) I didn’t really think of it that way. You are quite wise.

By the way, may I put a sign on your lawn that says, “Laureth is a total jerk!” LOL

Here’s some lurve for a great answer. I think you’ve given the best one yet. :)

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