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11 Tweets That Led to a Whole Mess of Legal Trouble

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While some might argue that 140 characters aren't enough to adequately express a thought or have a conversation, others have discovered that a tweet or two is all it takes to end up in a courtroom. Here are 11 great tricks for tweeting yourself into a hot mess of litigation.

1. Threaten to "Destroy America" (But Not Really)

The difference between "party hard" and "terrorize" is pretty big, and also obvious. Once British slang is involved, though, it gets a little murky. Leigh Van Bryan, 26, tweeted "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?" meaning, "Come see me before I go to the States to get trashed, guys." But U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials read, "I'm on my way to bomb all the States. Come by if you want to help."

Van Bryan and his traveling companion were detained by Homeland Security overnight, during which they were interrogated about their plans. Though they tried to explain that "to destroy" is to "party quite hard in," the pair were put on a plane to Paris the next morning. Officials claim that in secondary interviews, details "revealed both individuals were inadmissible to the United States."

2. Joke About Blowing up an Airport

In January 2010, Paul Chambers was just a guy planning a trip from his home in Doncaster, England, to his girlfriend's in Northern Ireland, when a snowstorm threw a wrench in the works. Frustrated and afraid his upcoming flight would be cancelled, Chambers tweeted, "Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You've got a week to get your sh*t together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!"

Though the message was a joke and Robin Hood Airport did apparently get it together, two days before his scheduled flight five officers arrested Chambers at work, seized his computers and phone, and then interrogated him for eight hours before charging him with "sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003." Chambers lost his job, had to pay $1500 in fines, and lost another job after his new employer discovered his felony conviction in a background search.

The ensuing media frenzy prompted Stephen Fry to hold a benefit event for the Twitter Joke Trial defendant, vowing to pay Chambers' legal fees and declaring he was "prepared to go to prison... if that's what it takes," to support Chambers' right to "innocuous hyperbole." Thousands of people retweeted Chambers' offensive message over the last two years tagged #iamspartacus and #twitterjoketrial to highlight the absurdity of his arrest. (None of these people were jailed.)

In 2011, Chambers' first appeal was dismissed by a judge at Doncaster Crown Court and his fines and fees were increased to $4100. In February 2012, a second appeal reached the High Court. Chambers' solicitor David Allen Green says the Court's decision will have a "potentially immense significance" for everyone who uses social media, since this is the "first 'appellate' case on what constitutes a 'menacing' communication over the internet."

3. Tell Police You're Waiting at the State Capitol ... to Kill Them

The first person ever arrested for 140 characters worth of nonsense was 52-year-old Oklahoma City resident Daniel Knight Hayden, whose excitement about an upcoming OKC Tea Party rally was a little... overzealous. Hayden was so amped about overthrowing the government that he imagined a civil war on the capitol building steps and offered himself up as a martyr. The problematic updates included gems like "START THE KILLING NOW! I am willing to be the FIRST DEATH!" and "After I am killed on the Capitol Steps, like a REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!"

This went on for a few days, but on April 14, 2009, when Hayden urged his followers to "Send the cops around" so he could "cut off the[ir] heads and throw the[m] on the State Capitol steps," the FBI decided to pay him a visit. He was arrested and charged with making interstate threats, and in 2010 Hayden was sentenced to eight months in prison for "knowingly transmitting a threatening communication."

4. Help a Bunch of Rioters Evade Police

The Pittsburgh Group of 20 rich and developing nations summit in September 2009 kicked off with a bang when anti-capitalist and anarchist protesters rioted, damaging public and personal property before police moved in to disband the crowds. Elliot Madison, a 41-year-old New Yorker, sent Twitter updates of the police force locations and movements to help other protesters avoid arrest. A similar tactic had been used in Iran and China in prior months during demonstrations in those countries, during which time the U.S. State Department asked Twitter not to perform a scheduled upgrade as it might temporarily restrict service.

This time, though, the tactic was called "hindering apprehension or prosecution by law enforcement," and Madison was arrested. When the FBI later raided his residence, they confiscated various items, including multiple dog toys and his Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs.

Madison and his lawyer argued that the charges (including "possessions of weapons of crime," which in this case was Madison's phone) were erroneous and a violation of free speech protection. By November, Pennsylvania agreed, and dropped all charges. But the state said his activities "may have been related to more expansive activities that went beyond the Pittsburgh G20 in both time and substance" and didn't rule out charging him in the future.

5. Accuse Your Former Fashion Designer of Being a Prostitute

Courtney Love had a falling out with designer Dawn Simorangkir in early 2009, apparently over money. Instead of settling the bill, Love took to Twitter, calling Simorangkir (among other things) a "drug-pushing prostitute." Thus began the first high-profile Twitter lawsuit, which Love lost. In 2011, the suit was finally settled for $430,000.

6. Accuse Your Former Lawyer of Accepting Bribes

Rhonda Holmes briefly represented Courtney Love in 2009. The professional relationship was dissolved and Love and Holmes parted ways, until Love requested legal help again several months later. The firm declined, inspiring Love to imply via Twitter that Holmes was paid to deny her legal counsel. Specifically, she said she was "devastated when Rhonda J Holmes esq of San Diego was bought off." After Love settled her previous defamation suit, Holmes filed her own, which is expected to go to jury trial this year.

7. Tell Your Followers They Should Switch Banks

Jean Ramses Anleu Fernández was "raided, arrested, sent before a judge, and sentenced" all in one day for "inciting financial panic," a criminal offense in Guatemala. The tweet (which has since been deleted) suggested that people who had money in state-controlled bank Banrural should withdraw their funds to disrupt the control of "corrupt people" over the financial institution.

Banrural was at the center of a national political scandal involving Guatemala's president, Álvaro Colom, who just days before had been implicated in the murder of an attorney who uncovered fraudulent transactions through the bank. Anleu Fernández admitted to posting the update about Banrural, which, amidst the outcry at his arrest, was retweeted thousands of times. His sentence involved house arrest and a hefty $6500 fine -- more than the $5000 per capita income in the country. Later, the murder in which the president was allegedly involved was ruled a suicide. Colom finished out his term in 2012.

8. Tweet Your Live-Action Mean Girls Reenactment

A 12-year-old boy, a 17- and two 16-year-old girls were arrested in Arkansas in January this year for posting "vulgar and derogatory rumors" about classmates from two separate accounts. The especially worrying tweets encouraged another student to kill himself and mocked a female student for having an eating disorder. The tweets were sufficiently hateful to earn all four students cyber-bullying charges, though no sentences have yet been handed down.

9. Be a Drunk-Driver-Enabling Social Media Platform

The Brazilian government filed a suit against Twitter in early February, citing concerns that the microblogging site undermines the country's efforts to curb drunk driving. It seems there are accounts that announce police speed traps and road blocks, ostensibly giving intoxicated drivers a chance to avoid the Breathalyzer and increased opportunity to injure or kill themselves and others on the road. The suit orders Twitter to pay $290,000 per day until all of the accounts are suspended. Twitter has not commented on the case, but a publicly posted content withholding policy states that the company has the "ability to withhold content from users in a specific country" when necessary to comply with national law and custom.

10. Create a Company Twitter Account, Then Take it With You When You Quit

Noah Kravitz was an editor for PhoneDog, a company that shares news and reviews about smartphones, communications devices, and telecom companies. The Twitter account he started (and used for his personal updates as well) had amassed 17,000 followers by the time he left PhoneDog in October 2011. A couple of months later, PhoneDog sent Kravitz a lawsuit totaling $340,000 -- $2.50 per follower per month since his departure. PhoneDog claims the followers are company property, and Kravitz counters that the account technically belongs to Twitter, therefore negating any claim PhoneDog has to its followers. The suit is not yet resolved.

11. And Sometimes, Not Tweeting Is the Problem

In November 2009, a stampede of frenzied teenage girls overtook a Garden City mall when some guy named Justin Bieber showed up. His manager Scooter Braun, who was in charge of keeping the peace, was arrested for not tweeting a notice from Bieber's account that the party was over and everyone had to go home. The charges state that Braun "created a dangerous safety situation" by failing to disperse the crowd, and he was arrested and charged with fire safety violations. After several months of litigation, the charges against Braun were dropped when the Biebs agreed to shoot an anti-cyberbullying PSA.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

Michael Ochs Archives/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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12 Facts About the Smithsonian's Collections
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With 19 museums spread along the East Coast, the Smithsonian Institution has become the country’s richest repository of American history. From culture to science, zoos to space exploration, the federally-backed archive has spent nearly 200 years preserving and educating. Check out some facts on its history, how a new species of dolphin was found hiding in its archives, and how the founder eventually became part of the collection.

1. ITS FOUNDER NEVER SET FOOT IN THE STATES.

Wealthy British globe-trotter James Smithson (1765-1829) had acquired an estate worth roughly $500,000 at the time of his death and ordered that all of his assets be inherited by his nephew, Henry James Dickinson. There was one twist: The estate was to be turned over to the United States in the event Dickinson died without an heir of his own so the country could build a hub for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Henry, then 18, died just six years later, and so President James Polk signed the act approving the Smithsonian Institution into law in 1846. Curiously, Smithson had never even visited the U.S. Why leave such a legacy to a foreign nation? Smithson never commented on his decision, leaving people to guess that it was either because he was impressed by democracy or because he wanted to enrich a country that, at the time, had only a few educational hubs.

2. NO ONE WAS REALLY SURE WHAT SMITHSON WANTED.

A portrait of James Smithson

“Increase and diffusion of knowledge” can be interpreted pretty broadly, and it took the United States a long time—roughly 10 years—before anyone could agree on what to do with Smithson’s gift. Educators, politicians, and civilians all had a unique notion of how to spend his fortune, including opening a university, a library, or an observatory. Ultimately, the Smithsonian Institution was a compromise, involving many of these ideas. By 1855, construction on the main building was complete at the National Mall in Washington; it was designated as a National Museum in 1858 [PDF].

3. THEY HAD TO HIDE THEIR COLLECTION FROM AXIS FORCES.

At the height of U.S. involvement in World War II, museum curators knew that Axis forces would have designs on destroying the vibrant culture housed at the museum’s main location at the National Mall. To protect these irreplaceable items, the Smithsonian arranged to have them shipped to an undisclosed location—now known to be near Luray, Virginia—and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. They didn’t return until 1944.

4. SMOKEY BEAR LIVED AT THEIR ZOO.

Smokey Bear takes a bath at the National Zoo

Yes, that Smokey Bear. (And there’s no “the” in his name.) In 1950, a bear cub that survived a raging forest fire in Capitan, New Mexico, was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service and named Smokey after the popular ad campaign mascot of the era. As a living symbol of the effort, he spent his remaining 26 years at the National Zoo, a constant recipient of visitor attention and hundreds of jars of honey.

5. THEY DISPLAY JUST ONE PERCENT OF THEIR COLLECTION.

In order to execute Smithson’s mission statement, the Smithsonian has had to morph into the greatest display of hoarding the world has ever seen. All told, the Institution’s various artifacts, specimens, and other arcana is believed to number in the neighborhood of 137 million, with an official museum estimate of 154 million. Just 1 percent of that is available for viewing at any given time.

6. ONE CATEGORY IS USUALLY OFF-LIMITS FOR VIEWING.

17th century human remains found in Jamestown, Virginia

Evolving public attitudes over the decades have prompted the Smithsonian to be very wary of displaying human remains. While they’ve collected everything from shrunken heads to the “soap man”—a corpse whose body turned to a soap-like substance thanks to a chemical reaction to soil—most of it remains out of public view.

7. AN EXHIBIT ON NUCLEAR WAR STIRRED CONTROVERSY.

For a planned exhibit of the Enola Gay, the bomber plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, museum organizers drew criticism in 1994 for presenting material that some veterans groups and members of Congress felt was politically charged. The museum agreed to omit text near the display that some felt dwelled on the horrific effects of the bomb, as well as references estimating the U.S. and rival casualties that might have been suffered if the bomb had not been deployed.

8. THE WEIRDEST ITEM THEY’VE CATALOGED IS A CRAPPY VIDEO GAME.

The box art for the Atari 2600 game E.T.

Amidst many internet lists of strange Smithsonian catalog items—taxidermied animals, beards, and other miscellanea—nothing seems more incongruous than the 2014 inclusion of a 1982 Atari video game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Renowned for being produced quickly and for helping to fuel the video game crash of the early 1980s, supplies of the cartridge were buried in a New Mexico landfill and only recently excavated. One went into the museum's archives.

9. THEY TURNED DOWN JIMMY DURANTE’S NOSE.

In the 1950s, actor and comedian Jimmy Durante was easily identified by his bulbous nose, a three-inch-long (from bridge to tip) feature that led to his nickname, “the Great Schnozzola.” Sensing a publicity opportunity, Durante’s management arranged for a makeup artist to create a plaster cast of Durante’s nose and offer it up to the Smithsonian as a piece of Americana. Frank Setzler, the museum’s head of anthropology was unimpressed. “Heavens, no,” he was quoted as saying. “Who would want that? The only place we could use it would be in the elephant display.”

10. AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES OF DOLPHIN WAS LURKING IN THEIR INVENTORY.

A dolphin skull from a recently-discovered species

With so many specimens, the bowels of the Smithsonian almost certainly harbor secrets that can surprise even scientists. In 2016, two researchers in search of fossilized marine mammals stumbled across the skull of a 25-million-year-old river dolphin they named Arktocara yakataga. Said to have been found in Alaska, the dolphin may have dwelled in the Arctic. It was estimated that the skull—plucked from obscurity because one of the researchers found it “cute”—sat on the shelf for 50 years before being identified.

11. THEY’RE COMMITTED TO PRESERVING DOROTHY’S SLIPPERS.

Possibly the most iconic pair of footwear in pop culture, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz have become a Smithsonian trademark. In 2016, the Institution successfully raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter to build a state-of-the-art preservation case to protect the kicks from deterioration. While star Judy Garland wore several pairs during filming and the Smithsonian’s are mismatched, it’s clear that visitors want to keep them in condition for any future travels along the yellow brick road.

12. SMITHSON EVENTUALLY BECAME PART OF THE COLLECTION.

James Smithson's final resting place within the walls of the Smithsonian

In 1904, some 75 years after his death in Italy, Smithson’s remains were about to be disturbed. U.S. Smithsonian officials were alerted that his grave site would be displaced because of a nearby stone quarry expansion. The Institution took the opportunity to have his casket shipped to America so he could be interred at the site of his legacy—the Smithsonian itself. Escorted by Alexander Graham Bell, the casket traveled 14 days by sea. The body was entombed and topped off by a marker in the Smithsonian, where it remains viewable by the general public.

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