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from the L.A. Times

Twitter joke goes bad, users protest by evoking Spartacus

Twitter users are taking to the microblogging site by the thousands to support, Spartacus-style, a British man whose angry tweet landed him in trouble with the law.

In January, Robin Hood airport in northern Britain temporarily closed. Paul Chambers of Doncaster tweeted, frustrated, that if it wasn't open within a week, he'd be "blowing the airport sky high!!” Spartacus

Officials didn’t find the quip to be funny. Instead, they saw it as akin to a terrorist threat, resulting in Chambers being arrested, found guilty of violating Britain’s communications law and then fined roughly $1,615, on top of lawyers fees. His appeal was rejected Thursday, with the judge deeming the tweet “menacing.”

Thousands of Twitter users on Friday protested the decision by repeating the original message with the hash tag #IamSpartacus. The outpouring was a nod to the gladiator film "Spartacus," which features a scene where slaves sacrifice themselves in solidarity with the title character.

Chambers’ supporters say the ruling -- referred to as #twitterjoketrial on the site -- is a blow for free speech. British actor, writer and comedian Stephen Fry offered on his Twitter profile to pay the full amount of the fine.

Meanwhile, Chambers -- or pauljchambers on Twitter -- used the attention to direct followers to his blog. There, in what he called a “self-indulgent moan,” he wrote that the affair had a “catastrophic” effect on him and would likely leave him bankrupt and a “miserable sod.”


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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus." Credit: Universal Studios

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