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British man wins appeal over 'menacing' Twitter joke

Paul Chambers, who joked that he'd blow up an airport, has had his conviction overturned.

In a landmark ruling for social media users, a British man who joked on Twitter that he would blow up an airport has had a conviction for sending a "menacing" message overturned.

Paul Chambers, 28, had tweeted that he would blow up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire when it was closed after heavy snow, the BBC reported.

The message, sent in January 2010 to his 600 followers, read: "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!"

Chambers said he sent the tweet  in a moment of frustration, as he was preparing to meet his girlfriend, Sarah Tonner, Politics.co.uk reported.

He was found guilty by Doncaster's magistrates court of sending a "menacing electronic communication." 

However, he appealed against conviction, saying his tweet could not be "menacing" if it was interpreted as humorous.

His first appeal was quashed by a crown court judge, who said the tweet was "clearly menacing."

However, on Friday Britain's High Court on Friday upheld his appeal.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Justice Owen and Justice Griffith Williams said in their ruling: "If the person or persons who receive or read it, brush it aside as a silly joke, or a joke in bad taste, or empty bombastic or ridiculous banter, then it would be a contradiction in terms to describe it as a message of a menacing character."

Gizmodo described the ruling as a victory for "common sense," pronouncing that "Obvious-Twitter-joking can now recommence."

Speaking outside the court Chambers' barrister John Cooper, who told the court that it was wrong to associate the tweet with terrorism, said it was a milestone ruling.

"It's a very big decision both nationally and internationally for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who use Facebook and Twitter," he told the BBC.

"It means that if you intend to make a joke and if what you do is a joke, however bad a joke that is, you cannot be prosecuted."

Chambers himself told the BBC: "This doesn't just protect comedians, it protects everybody.

"If we'd lost today we'd live in a country where you have to watch what you say... that sounds a little to me like east Germany in the bad old days. This is, I think, the biggest and most political court case in recent times."

Chambers also received widespread support from Twitter users and several high-profile British comedians.

Stephen Fry tweeted Friday morning:

Comedian Al Murray, a vocal supporter of Chambers, also tweeted:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/paul-chambers-twitter-terrorism-social-media-threats-menacing-jail-law