Katie Hopkins is vile but she should not be banned

Silicon Valley must not be the judge, jury and executioner of public discussion.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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Katie Hopkins is a racist. Anyone who hadn’t already gleaned that from her dalliances with the vile race-baiters of Generation Identity types or her use of the word ‘cockroaches’ in a column about immigrants will surely see it now following the speech she made at a phoney awards ceremony in Prague. Internet pranksters invited Hopkins to accept the Campaign to Unite the Nation Trophy (CUNT), during which Hopkins made a speech filled with racist epithets. She mocked Pakistani speech patterns. She compared Asians to epileptics. She described Muslims as retards who rape their mothers. She said that if you shout ‘Mohammed’ in a British playground, thousands of ‘fucking’ kids will come running, and ‘you don’t want any of them’. Vile, hateful stuff.

And yet Hopkins should not be banned. She should not be thrown off social media. Censorship is not the right solution to any problem, including prejudicial or hateful commentary. Last week, Hopkins, to the delight of the illiberal liberals who make up the commentariat and cultural elite in the UK, had her Twitter account suspended. Reportedly at the behest of Countdown host and campaigner against anti-Semitism Rachel Riley, and the chief exec of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, Imran Ahmed, Twitter erased all of Hopkins’ tweets and prevented her from accessing her account. People are celebrating this as a victory of decency over hatred; in truth, it is a victory of corporate power over freedom of speech.

There are numerous problems with the apparent banning of Katie Hopkins. The first is the issue of conflation, the way in which so many ideas and arguments are these days lumped together under the title of ‘hate speech’ worthy only of censorship. So, Hopkins was not suspended for comparing Asians to epileptics or for mocking Muslim schoolchildren – as she outrageously did in her Prague speech – but rather, according to reports, for calling Stormzy an ‘utter cockwomble’ and slamming him for playing the ‘race card’. In the one tweet that still lives on Hopkins’ Twitterfeed – which is why people suspect it is the main one she was banned for – she can be seen telling Stormzy that white men have a harder time in modern Britain than black men like him.

Now, people can agree or disagree with this. They can call it stupid, wrongheaded, offensive. But to label it hate speech is to demonise the expression of opinion – in this case an opinion about Stormzy and about the standing of white men in contemporary British society. One of the greatest problems in the woke era is the branding of all kinds of opinion – on immigration, on race, on Brexit, on Meghan Markle – as racist, whether witting or unwitting. As a result, even people who have never expressed any aspect of the ideology of racial hatred, but who simply find Meghan annoying or think we should tighten up the immigration system, find themselves being called hate-speakers, racists, even fascists. To be concerned about the possibility that Hopkins is being punished for that particular tweet is not semantics, nor is it to say Hopkins was right in what she said. It is merely to draw attention to the fact that Silicon Valley is increasingly being asked to police opinion and belief itself.

So let’s look beyond Katie Hopkins to someone who couldn’t be less like Katie Hopkins – Meghan Murphy. Murphy, a smart and principled Canadian feminist, was also banned from Twitter, even more forcefully than Hopkins, in fact, also on the grounds that she expressed hate speech. What did she say? She referred to Jessica Yaniv, the Canadian man who identifies as a woman, as ‘him’. She also drew attention, before most other people did, to Yaniv’s disgusting attempts to pressure female waxers to wax his testicles. Feminism is hate speech? Criticising Yaniv is hate speech? Mocking Stormzy is hate speech? Accusing black celebrities of playing the ‘race card’ is hate speech? It is clear, or it ought to be, that ‘hate speech’ has become an all-encompassing category that punishes not only forms of expression we can all agree are genuinely racist or hateful, but also moral convictions that are simply unfashionable or controversial.

So, it is possible that while Hopkins is a racist, she was banned for opinion rather than racism. People who believe in free speech should be able to recognise that this is wrong, even if they loathe Hopkins. In recent years, Twitter and other social-media platforms have become central to public life. They are the new public square – albeit massive, global public squares. They are the spheres in which politicians speak, people debate, ordinary folk express themselves publicly. That tiny numbers of moral arbiters in Silicon Valley have the power to expel and exclude people from these public squares should terrify all who believe in freedom of speech. You don’t like Hopkins – fine. But if she can be exiled from the new public sphere on the basis that she said something controversial, who might be next? More controversial critics of the excesses of multiculturalism? More ‘controversial’ feminists like Murphy? Controversial comedians, Marxists, artists?

That’s the thing: once you empower Twitter and other capitalist-founded platforms to decree who may speak and who may not, you are green-lighting a sweeping, global system of censorship. Both right-wing libertarians and left-wing radicals, ironically, say the same thing in response to this concern. They say, ‘Well, Twitter and the rest are private companies, so surely they have the right to say who can and cannot use their services’. It is predictable that the myopic libertarian right would so cavalierly elevate powerful corporations’ property rights over the free-speech rights of individuals – but to hear leftists do that is alarming. Clearly, their woke intolerance, their urge to censor everyone they disagree with, has now gone so far that they will happily empower unaccountable capitalists over ordinary people and give a nod of approval to the corporate control of public discussion.

And then there is the more difficult part of this discussion. Even if Hopkins had said genuinely racist things on Twitter – as she did in her Prague speech and has also done elsewhere – still she should not be censored. One of the many great things about freedom of speech is that it allows us to see what people really think. And that is empowering. It means that the rest of us – the potential audience to an individual’s speech – can use our intelligence and our principle to counter that speech, to criticise it, to ridicule it, to prove it wrong. Freedom of speech doesn’t only empower the speaker. It also empowers the audience. It allows us to exercise our moral judgement. Censorship, in contrast – whether it’s state censorship or corporate censorship – is fundamentally infantilising. It insults us and demeans us by blocking words and images on our behalf, as if we were children. It weakens our moral muscles and intellectual savvy by discouraging us from ever thinking for ourselves. Well, why should we, when wise people in government or Silicon Valley will think for us?

Katie Hopkins should be reinstated on Twitter. Not because she has anything of value to say, but for these three reasons. 1) Everyone, even objectionable people, must have the right to express themselves. That is the entire nature of freedom of speech. If we limit free speech, for any reason whatsoever, then it isn’t free speech at all. It is licensed speech, something gifted to us by officialdom or capitalism so long as we say things they find acceptable. 2) We, the audience, must have the right to hear all ideas and to decide for ourselves if they are good or bad. Anything else is just pure, foul paternalism that turns us from thinking citizens into overgrown children who must be protected from difficult ideas. 3) Corporate censorship is as bad as state censorship. Calling on powerful people or rich people to police the parameters of acceptable thought, and to expel anyone who says something bad, is a catastrophically erroneous thing to do. Trust people, not power; prefer freedom over control.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK


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