We all like to think that we are lucky enough to live in a society that allows us the privilege of free speech but if the truth be known free speech is nothing more than an illusion. The truth here is you are free to say what you want as long as it does not go against the masses. Once you practice your right of free speech in a way that upsets the wrong person you are looking at a huge amount of trouble.
Even a single tweet of no more than 140 characters can land you in a dire situation including time in a prison cell, being unceremoniously fired from your job, or on the wrong side of a law suit. Here we take a look at 12 people who landed themselves in a ridiculous amount of trouble for a single tweet.
1 – Joking About Tsunami Gets You Fired
If it is anyone’s job to make people laugh in the face of a tragedy, surely it is the job of a comedian. Usually this would be very true but after the 2011 Japanese tsunami there were few people in the mood for laughing. American comedian Gilbert Gottfried was one such comedian who thought who could lighten the mood by tweeting a joke about the disaster. Unfortunately for him no one thought his jokes were amusing and he was quickly fired from his cushy job as the voice of a talking duck on an advertisement.
Matters were made worse for Gottfried because he happened to be working for a company which did the majority of its business in Japan.
2 – Threatening to Blow Up Robin Hood Airport
I am more than 100% certain that anyone determined to bomb an airport has a greater chance of success if they do make their plans public on a social media website that is used by millions of people all over the world.
A British man named Paul Chambers undoubtedly did not think for a second anyone would take his frustrated rambling seriously when he complained on Twitter about delays at Robin Hood Airport (Nottingham, UK). Sure, he could have choose a better way of complaining rather than making a sarcastic threat to blow up the airport but that is what he did. Two days after his sarcastic tweet the police were knocking at his door and he was arrested. He was fined for his tweets and later commented that his resulting criminal record was jeopardising his career.
It is hardly surprising that when the world wide Twitter community got behind Paul Chambers with support and started to retweet the offending tweet, not one person was arrested.
3 – Fired for Tweeting Glee Spoilers
Television shows like Glee are well known for their use of extras in the background of scenes. Nicole Crowther was a recurring extra on the show that had the hope of using her small parts on the show as a stepping stone on her path towards her own dreams of Hollywood stardom. Unfortunately for her the stone she was using to step on was anything but stable.
One day while on set Crowther overheard something on set and decided to share it on her Twitter feed. As you can image the show’s producers did not take kindly to an extra sharing spoilers with the world. After Crowther sent out her tweets her producer Brad Falchuk replied “I hope you’re qualified to do something besides work in entertainment.”
4 – £90,000 in Damages
Plenty of people have at times failed to realise that Twitter is essentially a publication, and libel laws come hard on unfounded defamatory remakes. Lalit Modi, a former chairman of the Indian Premier League of Cricket, learned this the hard way when he said something on Twitter and was successfully sued by New Zealand captain Chris Cairns. Once the offending tweet was posted the website Cricinfo quickly picked up on the claim that Cairns was match-fixing and ran with the story. The website quickly realised their mistake and were happy to pay a little money to make their mistake go away.
Lalit Modi on the other hand had a little more faith in his remarks and decided not to withdraw and apologies for his accusations. This decision cost him to the tune of £90,000 when a court ruled that his claims were libel and ordered him to pay Cairns compensation.
5 – Threatening Copycat Mass Murder Is Not Funny
Alphen, in the Netherlands, had just experienced a mass shooting which left six people dead. In this psychological climate, a 17 year old (unnamed) posted, “Ha-ha Iraq is also coming to the Netherlands. This man in Alphen already has 6 kills on his name. I’m going to outdo him.” There was a Twitter backlash, and then he deleted the tweet and wrote “it was only a f****** joke.” Nobody seemed to get it (things look serious in plain black and white, despite the “ha-ha”), and he was arrested the next day.
6 – Mistaken Bomb Threat Girl Gets a 16 Year Old Arrested
An Australian teenager got himself arrested by failing to adequately convey his reference to a Pink song, tweeting “@Pink I’m ready with my Bomb. Time to blow up #RodLaverArena. B****.” This was a reference to her song “Time bomb,” which was roundly misunderstood (fairly understandably, given the actual content of the tweet) by concert staff, who apprehended him based on his profile picture and turned him over to the police.
7 – Social Media Strategist Posts From Wrong Account and Gets Fired
Social media is so important these days that people like Scott Bartosiewicz get paid to control company accounts. He worked for New Media Strategies, who were hired by Chrysler, amongst others, to make them look good on Twitter. But juggling multiple accounts was obviously outside of Bartosiewicz’s skill set, since he said “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f*cking drive” on Twitter under the impression it was from his personal account. It wasn’t. He lost his job at New Media Strategies, but they also lost their contract with Chrysler. He didn’t just harm his own income; he also took a huge client from the entire organisation.
8 – 56 Days in Prison For “Racially Aggravated Comments”
Liam Stacey was drunk. Watching the football as Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch during a match. He tweeted “LOL, **** Muamba. He’s dead!!!” and immediately received a torrent of abuse. He responded to other Twitter users with racist language, telling someone to “go pick some cotton.” Of course, if this was intended seriously it would be horrendous, but the fact that he broke down in tears after he was sentenced points to the obvious truth that it was just a stupid, drunken comment that wasn’t intended seriously. Unless he thought that the slave trade and the age of “cotton-pickers” was (or should be) alive and well, that is.
9 – N-Word = “Malicious Communication”
Sammy Ameobi posted a picture of some new black trainers he had, and a Twitter user left a short comment, “Your hand is nearly the same colour. N*****.” Ameobi responded appropriately, by re-tweeting the comment and bemoaning the fact that people are still racist in the modern world. Newcastle United, on the other hand, responded by telling the police and getting two people arrested “on suspicion of a malicious communication.” It seems like “idiotic” communication would have been a better description, however.
10 – Revealing Police Whereabouts During a Protest
41 year old Elliot Madison from Pittsburgh was arrested for tweeting something that anybody with functioning eyes would have been able to find out if they were in a specific location. During a protest in 2009, he tweeted the police’s location. Of course, this means that unlawful protesters would be able to avoid the law, but it’s also far from classified information. It seems unusual that had he simply ran/drove/caught a bus to the protest and told them personally he’d have probably escaped arrest for essentially the same act. Posting something on Twitter is evidently very, very different from saying something out loud (it makes it more likely you’ll get caught), but in this case either is equally illegal.
11 – Insinuating Posthumous Parental Disappointment Can Get You Arrested
A 17 year old was arrested during the London Olympics for a tweet he sent to British diver Tom Daley. Daley had finished fourth, and the tweeter said, “@Tomdaley1994 You let your dad down i hope you know that” in reference to the diver’s late father. Things got a little more out of hand (the offender, @rileyy69, apparently threatened to shoot some other tweeters’ birds…), but the event ultimately led to his arrest. The police proudly tweeted that they’d arrested him, linking to his username in the message.
12 – Encouraging Withdrawals From a Bank is “Inciting Financial Panic”
The tweet read, “First concrete action should be remove cash from Banrural and bankrupt the bank of the corrupt.” This was Guatemalan Jean Fernandez’s way of saying that the people should withdraw their money from a bank which was at the centre of a controversy. The state-run Banrural bank was intricately involved with a scandal, in which the president of Guatemala had allegedly been involved with the murder of an attorney who exposed the bank’s fraudulent practices. In this situation, the tweet is wholly understandable. The law disagreed, ruling it “inciting financial panic,” putting him under house arrest and fining him more than the average annual income in the country.