The curious case of Alfie Perkins

Another teenage tweeter has been criminalised for being an idiot online.

Charlie Peters

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Topics Free Speech UK

On 10 March this year, Birmingham teenager Alfie Perkins – reportedly nine pints deep and full of football-inspired anger – sent some very, very stupid tweets.

The Salford University student tweeted about Aston Villa footballer Jack Grealish, soon after he scored against Birmingham City. He made a series of jokes about Grealish’s deceased brother. These abhorrent tweets (written in all-caps, no less) were clearly intended to rile up and anger their audience.

It worked. Six hours and 8,000 replies later, Perkins was the most hated person in England. Death threats, angry local-news stories in the Birmingham Mail and a police investigation all soon followed. And everyone was falling over themselves to prove just how righteous they were in opposition to his internet nastiness. Attacking Perkins was the key to a few serotonin-releasing retweets, and soon half the site was on the case.

The Perkins affairs was a classic example of Twitter’s tendency to launch into full-blown medieval mob justice.

But what started as some Twitterati policing soon evolved into actual criminal justice. Just a few days after the match and his tweets, Perkins was arrested and charged with three counts of sending grossly offensive communications.

This week, he was found guilty of all three counts and, after avoiding a jail sentence, was ordered to pay a fine of £350.

This is unacceptable. Perkins said some incredibly stupid and nasty things, but being stupid and nasty on the internet should not be a matter for the courts. The police, judges and juries should not be brought in to punish an unthinking teenager, desperate for what they were bound to give him: attention.

Football fans are one of the press’s easiest targets. All too often columnists and commentators jump at the opportunity to tarnish them with all sorts of bigoted, unfair accusations. This quickly leads to a ‘something must be done’ panic, which lawmakers – ever-keen to solve problems that don’t exist – quickly latch on to.

The online and judicial reaction to the Perkins affair shows why we get awful laws like the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, an appalling piece of kneejerk legislation that tried to arrest nasty chants out of the terraces in Scotland. Thankfully, this law was repealed last year after a sorry six years on the books. But the sorts of laws used to punish Perkins have maintained their authoritarian presence in Britain – most notably, Section 127 of the Communications Act, which criminalises ‘grossly offensive’ online communications.

It has been revised and put through revisions and public consultations in order to help ‘strike a balance’ between freedom of speech and criminality. But with something as subjective as offensiveness – gross or otherwise – that balance will always be impossible to strike.

Perkins has been banned from Birmingham City for life. Lots of people will forever despise him for his bout of tweeting under the influence. Apparently he now occasionally attends Manchester City matches. This, it seems to me, is punishment enough. There is no need to punish him for the ‘crime’ of being rude on the internet.

Charlie Peters is a writer.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Comments

Jim Lawrie

19th October 2019 at 7:33 pm

Maybe it depends what team you support.

While going about his business as a footballer Scott Brown of Celtic has been taunted in person by tens of thousands about the death of his sister, aged 21, from skin cancer. No action was taken.

Cody Bailey

19th October 2019 at 4:07 am

Once you subscribe to the notion that some things are allowed to be said and others not – hate speech is not free speech! – this is where you end up. You prize feelings over truth and you suddenly find people being imprisoned for telling jokes or engaging in hyperbole or just drunk teenagers ranting to let off steam. That is what lies at the end of this road. That is where it went yesterday, where it goes today and where it will always go. If you have ever said that hate speech does not equal free speech and you are now wondering who caused this, look in the mirror.

Freedom of speech means that nothing is out of bounds. Here we make few exceptions: credible threats (calling a bomb threat to a crowded venue),
inciting riot (only when the incitement is imminent such as pointing at someone and screaming to an enraged mob “String him up!”,
Obscenity (1) To the average person, applying contemporary community standards, appeal to the prurient interest; (2) Depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct, as specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (3) Taken as a whole, lack any serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value ( I strongly disagree with this one as there is no possible objective standard, only subjective ones and fuck that),
Defamation ( telling lies about someone that damage that person’s reputation. Generally the victim must show some sort of financial damage such as loss of employment)
Commercial speech (to ensure it is truthful and not misleading)
Compelling interests (such as gag orders on jurors or parties in law suits or the protection of national security)

Aside from obscenity those exceptions cross the line from speech to action. Prosecutors cannot pursue someone simply because internet commenters find a judge’s ruling contemptible and thus suggest that a large wood chipper be placed on the courthouse steps and the judge be fed in, feet first.
https://www.popehat.com/2015/06/22/dojs-gag-order-on-reason-has-been-lifted-but-the-real-story-is-more-outrageous-than-we-thought/

Try that in any country in the world outside the US. (No, I am not the one that said it. My suggestion was that the judge should be in a different line of work…namely the rope stretching business). Of course the whole conversation was clearly hyperbole. No one seriously intended any such thing to happen, though I would be happy were the judge disbarred and tossed off of the bench.

Free speech means freedom of conscience. It means you decide what you think and are free to express it. If others find your expression offensive that’s just too bad for them. Speech that everyone loves doesn’t need protection. Hate speech is indeed free speech. That is exactly the point of the protection.

H McLean

19th October 2019 at 12:05 am

Go tell it to Count Dankula.

Linda Payne

18th October 2019 at 6:47 pm

This ties in well with Frank Furedi’s article and it won’t be long before someone is done even if the tweet is not offensive, it already happens in the public sphere where self censorship is happening, we are being conditioned to be tame with our speech should some self righteous prick is listening and decides to make an issue out of it; people lose their jobs, get a criminal record and are even jailed, I never thought things would get so bad in this country.

jessica christon

18th October 2019 at 8:16 pm

“I never thought things would get so bad in this country.”

Linda, I’m starting to think of this differently; maybe the problem is that it hasn’t got bad enough yet? This insidiousness is doing just enough to make it’s presence felt while allowing the vast majority of us go about our lives unimpeded by it, so there’s no impetus for any real change. Meanwhile the frog boils slowly in the water.

Jim Lawrie

20th October 2019 at 12:56 am

It has gone way beyond the public sphere.

Men are being driven out of many walks of life.

steve moxon

18th October 2019 at 6:29 pm

Shouldn’t we just all get together and everyone send ridiculous orphan-sieve guff by the bucketful and chuckle as all the orphan-sieve-eratti run ’emselves into the ground in failing to police us?

James Knight

18th October 2019 at 5:43 pm

In boxing it is called “trash talk”. It is always below the belt.

cliff resnick

18th October 2019 at 5:39 pm

social media the new opium for the masses? As Andy Warhol said in the future every one would be famous for 15 minutes, it’s seem he got this somewhat back to front it should have been “everyone will be a nonentity for all eternity”!

Warren Alexander

18th October 2019 at 4:25 pm

If behaving like a twat is a criminal offence, we’d all been prison.

jessica christon

18th October 2019 at 4:19 pm

So the boy gets punished but noone who sent him death threats (an actual crime) was?

Jim Lawrie

18th October 2019 at 8:13 pm

Punished for what?

jessica christon

20th October 2019 at 2:05 pm

Sending tweets. It says he got a £350 fine.

Andrew Best

18th October 2019 at 2:27 pm

Print and be dammed
And he was dammed
Lesson to be learnt
All social media is b******s

Ven Oods

18th October 2019 at 11:17 pm

“And he was dammed”
So why all the recent flooding?

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