#twitterjoketrial has become an internet cause celebre for free speech on the internet. Briefly, back in January, Paul Chambers, out of frustration with delays in his journey, "threatened" to blow Doncaster's Robin Hood Airport sky high through the medium of a tweet to his followers. What has followed is a ghastly example of a lack of common sense among the various authorities involved and a total failure on the part of the judiciary to understand the nature of social media. Paul Chambers now has a criminal record and has lost his job for making a joke,albeit in bad taste. To be clear, I completely stand by Paul's right to tweet what he did without fear of prosecution in a free society, even if I think it was a clumsy and ill-considered attempt at humour (which he completely accepts).
So, for those involved in education, how would we react if a child made such a threat about school on a Facbook page? What should we do about it? Even if it was obvious that it was a joke, would that child face disciplinary action? How would parents expect us to react? How would the local media react?
I don't think I need to remind people about the awful events at Columbine and subsequent school shootings to imagine that most schools would not react to such a thing by standing by that child's right to free speech. I know that an awful lot of teachers agree that Paul Chambers' prosecution is a terrible example of the State using legislation in a way that was never intended, yet the case raises serious questions about how we deal with such issues in school. I see some material for some excellent 6th Form debates.
For much more on the Paul Chambers case, read Jack of Kent's superb coverage