When Katie Hopkins offered support to ‘controversial pick up artist’ Julien Blanc, according to the Huffington Post, the story surprised no one.
Seeming to cultivate her status as a professional troll, she responded to the polls calling for Blanc to be denied a visa with a roll of her metaphorical eyes and once again managed to command the attention of every media outlet poised for her next inflammatory comment.
Next up – plans to ban a bloke from the UK as we are frightened of what he will say to people paying to see him. pic.twitter.com/Zz6OivTHIo
— Katie Hopkins (@KTHopkins) November 16, 2014
Blanc, a Swiss-American who claims to be able to ‘game’ women so ‘hard’ that they ‘beg’ for his attention, has been called the ‘Most Hated Man In The World’ after a video of him choking a woman in Tokyo went viral and Australia gave him the boot. And despite an apology interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, shaking the reputation of a racist and sexually violent misogynist is likely to take sometime.
Did Katie Hopkins help him at all? Probably not. If anything, it surely emphasises his unenviable position. Why shouldn’t the Most Hated Man In The World have the support of Britain’s Most Hated Woman?
But why don’t we look again at that tweet.
Accompanied by a photo of Blanc holding up a t-shirt, which has spawned almost as many headlines and hashtags as he has, Hopkins’ actual message seems to be: why is the UK afraid of a man who looks a lot like your average bloke about to go on a boozy holiday… and a lot less like the usual suspects who receive notice to ‘keep out of our country’.
And I don’t like to admit it, but there’s the distinct possibility Hopkins might have an actual, valid, and (dare I say it) meaningful point.
The vast power of social media is such that within days hundreds of thousands of people were signing up to keep Blanc’s ‘dating advice’ out of our country. There are two intriguing elements to this. The first is about the basic principles of free speech. The names on the sixteen-strong list of ‘banned persons’ from the Home Office belong to those ‘considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke, foment, glorify or justify terrorism’.
Thinking about what Hopkins posted, Julien Blanc doesn’t really fit into this category. Could the real question come down to freedom of speech? Can you really ban someone like Blanc on the basis of what he thinks?
What he reportedly offers is insight into making men sexually attractive. What the media revealed was a young chauvinist teaching seminars in demeaning and assaulting women. Indubitably unpleasant, his seminars are, unquestionably, ‘offensive… inappropriate’ and ‘emotionally scarring’. But no crime has been officially committed here. As Andy J. Semotiak said in his Forbes article, ‘simply holding obnoxious views is insufficient to deny entry’.
Then the second point is this: would we have even have heard of Julien Blanc, would his name be as well known and his tactics as well publicised in the UK, if not for the heavy ‘no-platforming’ on the part of petitions desperate to keep him out?
A ‘no platform’, encapsulates the idea that certain viewpoints have zero right to be expressed in public debate, and was described in The New Statesman. Powered by the vast power of social media, this ‘no platform’ for Julien Blanc worked so that within days hundreds of thousands of people were signing up to keep his ‘seduction advice’ out of our country.
Does the success of the ‘no platform’ for Julien Blanc represent the power of the public voice? Does it suggest that we are stifling debate?
It doesn’t really make much difference.
Petitioning to keep him out gave him more attention and created a public profile through digital media that some people would pay for. The Guardian’s Marina Hyde certainly seems to agree, claiming that ‘bans turn ranting clerics you’ve never heard of into ones you never stop hearing about’.
By lobbying against him, by creating a ‘no platform’, we essentially gave a little man with an even littler reputation a massive foothold in the all important column inches of the media. We fed the troll. We created the troll.
Now it doesn’t matter if he can come into the UK or not. Because now when he wants to go around spewing advice or his deliberately provocative life skills, people are going to listen through any and every medium he employs. They might not agree. They might not think what he says has any merit. But they will listen.
This is precisely what we saw with Katie Hopkins, former Apprentice contestant and now professional ‘rent-a-gob’, Sun columnist, broadcaster and business woman. She made a name as someone with a sharp, often cruel tongue, usually appealing to some trending ‘whatever-ism’ of the day.
— Richard Briggs (@dickiebird123) November 20, 2014
We gave her this platform though; we let her continue to post her many rancorous messages without censorship. Unlike Julien Blanc, for whom censorship has left him with the sole option of beaming in via Skype to talk to his British fans, Hopkins has been made to apologise a handful of times for offending people but almost always escapes further ridicule when she shrugs and tells the offendees it’s their fault for being offended.
She thrives because she trolls. And we let her.
She accepts and laughs at the outrage that she causes. And there’s always a small group somewhere accepting and laughing along with her.
Of course, there’s the slight question of whether Katie Hopkins is a traditional troll. She isn’t playing the ultimate devil’s advocate but equally she isn’t spouting opinions just to make Internet users so angry that their bloodied fingers expire trying to type an equally vitriolic defense. She seems to actually mean what she says, rather than saying it for the sake of irking 90% of the population.
Some love her for it and it maybe there’s an argument for saying her voice actually makes some issues come into the public eye that would otherwise be hidden from view. But the media definitely feeds her and if anyone tried to take her offline, I’m sure there would be outcry at those attempting to silence her voice.
My thought is that the media, particularly online and social media, complains about trolling and the spread of cyberbullying, but then it endorses or employs the same tactics when it suits the in vogue agenda.
Katie Hopkins has not empowered Katie Hopkins. Julien Blanc has not empowered Julien Blanc. The voice of shared media has.
Regardless of whether you think that Blanc should never hold a visa to the UK, or if you find Hopkins funny, multi-channel media has the power to make sure that Ice Buckets succeed, Comet-Landings disappear behind Kim Kardashian’s ginormous derrière, chauvinists become (un)popular icons, and trolls can stay beneath the crooked bridge, ready to gobble up any stray Billy-goats.
So I think this begs the question, and really the whole of this blog: should we feed the trolls?
Does the right to swing your fist end where my nose begins, as J.S.Mills said, or is the right to free speech more important than anything else?
Let us know what you think about the trolls in the comments below.
And if you'd like to read more about reputations, why not check out Claire's blog as well!