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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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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.


Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?


This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.


An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.


Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.


Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.


Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.


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