#IAmSpartacus: Twitter Rallies Around Man Convicted For Joke Tweet

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NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

This either proves or totally invalidates Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis.

NewsFeed has written some embarrassing tweets in our day (mostly about drinking and dancing — sorry, followers!) but at least we’ve never been arrested for any of them. That’s what happened to the unfortunate Paul Chambers this January, and now Twitter is rising to his aid.

As our colleague William Lee Adams writes on TIME.com:

In January, Chambers was courting a woman who followed him on Twitter and the two had arranged to meet in Ireland. When snow threatened to cancel Chambers’ flight from Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport, he composed a tweet which he claims to have accidentally posted publicly, rather than sending it via a direct (and private) message: “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your sh_t together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Officials at the airport got wind of the facetious bomb threat — and Chambers was eventually convicted of being a “menace.” He lost an appeal on Nov. 11, and must now pay a fine of $1,600 and a further $3,200 in legal expenses. Judge Jacqueline Davies insisted that the tweet in question was “menacing in its content and obviously so. It could not be more clear. Any ordinary person reading this would see it in that way and be alarmed.”

The Internet, seeing one of its own punished, rushed into action the only way it knew how: By creating a Twitter trending topic. The idea was started by one @ChrisTT, who suggested users sympathetic to Chambers’ plight tweet his original message with the hashtag #IAmSpartacus. (The 1959 Stanley Kubrick film Spartacus featured a sequence in which the eponymous character’s gladiator allies thwart Roman attempts to identify him by all proclaiming “I am Spartacus.”)

More on TIME.com: The top 10 tweets of 2009

By Friday, #IAmSpartacus had become one of Twitter’s top worldwide trending topics. And, contra to what skeptics may believe, the viral campaign achieved a modicum of justice: actor/comedian Stephen Fry has offered to pay Chambers’ fine.

Still, we’re a little shaken by the story. It’s just one more reason for us to switch our accounts back to ‘Private’ and make all the airport jokes we want.

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