The micro world of Pembrokeshire once again finds itself reflected in the macro wider world. What have Pembroke Dock Councillor Peter Kraus and Katie Hopkins have in common? They both find themselves under scrutiny in a world that seems to be changing by the minute, and maybe even in a good way for a change.
Katie Hopkins has finally been banned from Twitter. The camps are of course split straight down the middle. There is much rejoicing in certain factions – her vile ways and her misuse of free speech have finally caught up with her, and she finds herself without a platform to spread deliberate hate.
Peter Kraus found himself in Katie territory the other day when he posted a picture on Facebook of monkeys attacking a car, alongside a picture of black men doing the same thing. The intent is clearly racist, but after first claiming to have been hacked, Cllr Kraus was forced to change his story when it became apparent to him that this kind of thing can be checked. So his story changed to the inevitable claim that he just meant people act like animals.
It’s too late in history to pretend to not see the link between the two images. It’s too late in history to exclaim that the picture was posted in ignorance.
In one way, he can be seen as worse that his macro counterpart. Katie Hopkins have never pretended to be anything other than what she is. She’s also not an elected representative. But Cllr Kraus, though only a councillor at the lowest level, is still regarded as an authority by his ward, respected for his good works in the community. People will listen to him and mark his words.
It depends what thread you read as to the attitude of the locals to his post and his subsequent apology, which is not so much as an apology, but a poor explanation, which reads a little like it was written in too much haste, by a small child. In the dark. Whilst drunk. I have hundreds of black friends he exclaims. You’d never hear Katie Hopkins admit to that.
The trouble with social media, and this notion of free speech, is the misuse of it all. Was social media intended to make it possible, easy even, to quickly spread vitriol with a few taps and a press of the post button? Was it never assumed that people would take the opportunity to not just share pictures, ideas, memories, but also ideas of hate, and division? You only have to watch a documentary about the rise of the Nazi party to realise what a role propaganda has to play in its steering of world events. You used to have to go through the rigmarole of printers, and leaflet dropping, posters, info-mercials. Now, any old local Tom, Dick or local councillor can write whatever they like in seconds, and have their words proliferate around the world in seconds, to influence whoever out there is looking to be influenced.
Some threads on Facebook this morning are congratulating Cllr Kraus for his brave apology and his work in the community. Other threads are incensed that such a racist post, followed by a clear lie that he was hacked, and are demanding his resignation. It would seem that another day of arguing on social media looms as lockdown continues to bore everyone to death.
The same strand of people who are behind Cllr Kraus, seem to be exactly the same people who are saying that Katie Hopkins shouldn’t be gagged. The ones calling for Cllr Kraus to resign and apologise are the same people who are glad Katie Hopkins is gone.
It’s little wonder, with the popularity of Hopkins, that other people will attempt to emulate her style, feeling empowered to say what they think without any of that pesky political correctness to temper their views. Our local councillors and their outspoken views, when challenged, cause the kind of arguments to divide a county, to split the people right down the middle. And this is where we have to be careful with the concept of free speech. In the UK, our laws have allowed us, for a long time, to have our say. But with the abuse of this power, eventually it’s going to be a privilege that becomes slowly stripped away. Stripping away the right to free speech when inciting hatred is being criticised by some, but if someone had shut the Nazis up early on, maybe history would have been different. In the early days of the Nazi party, Hitler was indeed banned from public speaking, but what use was that, with the similarly talented Goebells waiting in the wings to pick up the baton and fill the gap?
Who will replace Katie Hopkins? It won’t be Peter Kraus; I’m pretty sure he’ll be keeping quiet from now on. But someone will.
But with free speech comes responsibility. Free speech is a privilege. If it’s misused it can create chaos, war, discontent, genocide. If speaking your mind means spreading hate, then speaking your mind isn’t always a good thing. Free speech is a honour. It is power. Use it wisely.