Rise of IAmSpartacus and Fall of TwitterJokeTrial

Thursday 11th November 2010

Once upon a time, there was a guy who was genuinely upset about the impact of snow on his lovelife. Slightly frustrated, he sent a tweet to his girlfriend implying that he’s unlikely to be able to fly over to meet her. Oh and then things took a ridiculous turn.

It’s January 2010. The British weather was causing more havoc than normal. The public’s travel plans were once again majorly disrupted. At this point, few may vent their anger, while others see the funny side and throw humour at the situation. It’s the British way. Being able to laugh at our chaotic lives keeps us going.

Paul Chambers was one such guy. The weather was essentially coming between him and meeting up with his girlfriend in Northern Island. So he sent her the following tweet.

“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!!”

It was probably read by a handful of people, if any at all.

To cut a long story short, the tweet was picked up after a random search by someone working at the airport. He had a duty to report it and in turn the police had a duty to investigate it. At this point a slap on the wrist would have sufficed. Not literally though, as that could lead to inciting some kind of light torture. This eventually led to court case and a guilty verdict under an outdated 80-year UK law. That led to an appeal, which failed, as the judge considered the tweet as a ‘menace’. Aside from the fine and relevant court costs, remarkably the criminal record still stands.

The #TwitterJokeTrial turned out to be ‘the’ really bad joke. Not the original tweet, but the law in general. In response to the verdict came the Twitter backlash, with thousands of people around the world sending the original tweet in a show of solidarity. The cleverly named #IAmSpartacus went global, especially the following day when celebrities, including numerous comedians got involved.

Over 20,000 tweets featured the latest hashtag, dwarfing the 17,000 of the original hashtag in less than half the time. In fact you could argue the only real explosion was #IAmSpartacus.

The police have implied that the original tweet was not a threat and that the people retweeting will not be investigated. Of course they shouldn’t. It was never a one-man terrorist threat and this is not now a cleverly orchestrated global one on a tiny airport in South Yorkshire.

Terrorists do not generally use Twitter to warn its targets weeks in advance. In fact, why would anyone threaten to blow up an airport which is closed?

I guess the only way forward, apart from common sense, is for Twitter to be limited to 125 characters, with every tweet automatically prefaced with the words ‘maybe a joke’.

To keep up to date with the case follow @jackofkent and/or @davidallengreen on Twitter.

David Allen Green’s blog (Jack of Kent) is an essential read.
Background to the case can be found here.
Background to the appeal case can be found here.

The Guardian article on the #IAmSpartacus can be found here.

Charlie Brooker’s brilliant piece on the whole thing can be found here.

Dragon’s Dream is a Twitter Success

Friday 4th June 2010

One man’s idea, turned into a dream and almost hijacked by a rival. This is the story of #duncansdream and #peterspeople.

Fridays on Twitter are best known for #ff and #followfriday hashtags. However, Friday 4th June 2010 was a game changer. It all started just after 12pm when Duncan Bannatyne had a vision:

@DuncanBannatyne: I would like to #ff all of my followers – start following each other then we will all have 90,000 follwers. Simples

DJ Chris Evans retweeted the original idea giving it further credence.

At this point, I thought the idea seemed flawed. The primary concern was that if you had to follow 90,000 people in order to have 90,000 followers it would make your Twitter timeline virtually unreadable. Aside from that, adding so many people would probably take a long time, cleverly put by one of Duncan Bannatyne’s initial retweets:

RT @iancreek: @DuncanBannatyne What an excellent idea, I’ll start following your followers now. Should be all done by Christmas!

Just as I thought the idea was doomed to failure, a well crafted hashtag gave it super-twitter strength. All it took was a simple retweet by Duncan Bannatyne and the rest is history:

RT: @SteveRichardsUK Let’s get @DuncanBannatyne and the #duncansdream trending

The original idea and the person to thank for the duncansdream hashtag is @iancreek:

Time for someone to set-up a hash tag for this @DuncanBannatyne experiment :- ) any thoughts? #duncansdream maybe

So #duncansdream was about to come to life. By around 4pm it had superceded all expectations and in no time at all it was the No.1 trending topic in London and the UK. Eventually it was to overtake #oilspill as the No.2 trending topic Worldwide. Of course, it confused so many people across the world as Twitter was full of tweets like “I don’t get #duncansdream”.

The increase in followers far outweighed anything #ff would ever deliver. It seemed that there were a couple of strategies at play. Tweeters either followed as many people as possible, hoping that a large number would follow them back or simply wrote numerous tweets hoping that they would deliver followers or maybe even a combination of both.

As I didn’t want an unreadable timeline, I didn’t go all out adding people for the sake of it. Luckily, with some help from Duncan Bannatyne, more followers started coming in:

At around 8:30pm, with #duncansdream in full flow, Duncan Bannatyne was either kidnapped, went out for a meal or had an early night. It was left to another Dragon to seize the initiative. Peter Jones, at first slightly bewildered by it all, then retweeted this:

RT @androidfearn: @dragonjones please RT come on people let’s get #peterspeople trending above #duncansdream

The War of the Dragon Hashtags was now on. Basically, #peterspeople was light-heartedly trying to muscle in on the success of #duncansdream. Shortly after, I was lucky enough to have the following retweeted, which helped gain more followers:

From around 10pm until 1am #duncansdream and #peterspeople were fighting it out and to be fair it was a pretty even race. But there is no doubt #peterspeople was never going to be able to amass the enormous number of tweets sent using #duncansdream. According to What’s the Hashtag? there were 13,165 mentions of #duncansdream on June 4th and another 1,115 up until 4:30am GMT on June 5th. Sadly, there is no data for #peterspeople.

In the end, it seems I had a net gain, adding 10 people and gaining 90 additional followers. There maybe people who had a net loss, but that wasn’t the point of the original idea. Duncan Bannatyne wanted people to gain additional followers and on that note it was a major success, with probably everyone benefiting from the exercise.

So that’s it. A joyful day to be had by thousands of people across the globe. New followers and interesting conversations. Above all, a fresh Twitter experience. To be honest, I am just as excited to see the aftermath of it all, especially if #peterspeople will be revived for a final push against #duncansdream. I haven’t had this much fun since the general election when #nickcleggsfault, possibly the funniest hashtag ever, did Twitter proud.

UPDATE: At approx 2:45pm GMT on June 5th, the duncansdream hashtag hit 20,000 tweets and #duncansdream and #peterspeople were the UK’s No.1 and No.2 Trending Topics.

Over the weekend, there were 13,000 tweets on Friday (in 12 hours), 15,000 tweets on Saturday (in 24 hours) and 18,000 tweets on Sunday (in 24 hours) mentioning #duncansdream.

Finally, a big thank you again to Duncan Bannatyne for adding one of my tweets detailing this post to his Twitter favourites list.