Katie Hopkins reported to police
Katie Hopkins has caused outrage again, but people should just ignore her stupid comments. Getty

It's almost become cliché to say these are worrying times for free speech in Britain, but it's a concern that shouldn't ever feel stale, especially when genuine.

The latest symptom of Britain's free speech malaise is the pathetic response by a large group of people to the latest tic by Katie Hopkins, the booking producer's best friend: always available and prepared to say something shamelessly stupid.

Reacting to a nurse with Ebola being transferred from a Scottish hospital to one in London, Hopkins was characteristically classy.

"Glaswegian Ebola patient moved to London's Royal Free Hospital. Not so independent when it matters most are we jocksville?" she wrote on Twitter, sending some of the site's Scottish users into a frenzy.

"Little sweaty jocks, sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn't cricket. Scottish NHS sucks."

Clearly angling for bites with petulant words of no meaningful consequence, she should have been ignored. When someone craves attention, this is the most powerful antidote. Refuse her the dignity of an angry reaction and, eventually, she will go away. But not everyone did ignore her.

Hopkins, a former Apprentice contestant and general cretin, takes pride in her status as a professional troll. She has controversial opinions for which she is paid. It's her shtick, her personal brand which she trades off for financial gain. Her many detractors don't realise they are part of the cycle of increasing her wealth.

This is how it works. There is X issue in the news. Producers and editors need to create some frisson around X to attract an audience. So they invite Hopkins to offer up some commentary because of her reputation. She obliges them, for money, with something objectionable about X.

A mob of angry people react across Facebook and Twitter, sharing links and gifting the media the audience they need, mostly for commercial reasons. And repeat.

The tedious outrage Hopkins gleans from the same simple-minded reactionaries, every single time, is what pays her bills and keeps her in the media.

But this has become worse than a bunch of idiots repeatedly taking the bait laid out by another idiot. The Hopkins backlash has taken a more sinister turn.

People are calling for her arrest in droves. Though she has her defenders, there are a troublingly large number of people goading the police into taking action for little more than causing offence to those who seek it out.

Offence is entirely subjective. We are offended by different things, for different reasons.

An online petition, the go-to activism for lazy somethingmustbedoners, calling for Hopkins' arrest is edging towards 3,000 signatures. It accuses her of racism, bullying, being abusive, and insulting NHS workers.

"For years, Katie Hopkins has seemingly gotten away with a string of controversial statements, either via main stream media or social media, without punishment," says the petition.

"If we pull together, call for her arrest, and show this person that she cannot get away with such remarks online, we may just shut her up once and for all."

'Once and for all'. A Final Solution to the Katie Hopkins problem. My reference is trite and hyperbolic, but the comments – and that they have gleaned such support – expose the authoritarian nerve that runs through a large part of Britain's kneejerk society.

What we have is a throbbing mass of reactionaries. They want every person who says something deemed offensive to be hauled in by the police.

Someone has offended me and others, therefore they must be punished by the law. Not subject to scrutiny and argument and debate, or social isolation if what they've said is that bad, but the full force of the state used against them.

Katie Hopkins is a regular on programmes such as This Morning and the wright Stuff (ITV)
Katie Hopkins is a regular on programmes such as This Morning and the wright Stuff (ITV)

The sheer number of people who think like this is worrying. Perhaps more worryingly, the police have a bad track record on free speech issues in recent years.

It wouldn't be such a problem if the police weren't trying to police offence. But you only need to look at Police Scotland's response to the recent Glasgow bin lorry tragedy to see that they are.

"Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media and any offensive comments will be investigated," they tweeted.

It's probably no coincidence that Police Scotland was the authority being begged on Twitter to arrest and charge Katie Hopkins with race hate crimes for using the term "Jocks". Xenophobic? Probably. A crime? Absolutely not.

There are some reasonable curtailments to freedom of speech: when there is genuine incitement to or threat of violence, be that physical harm to an individual or the damaging of property; to stop harassment.

But censoring things we don't like or agree with deprives us of the ability to challenge them and others from hearing this.

If a statement is wrong or moronic, it shouldn't be beyond us to defeat it with sound arguments. You don't need a police truncheon to beat a flawed argument. Just a brain.

And allowing censorship or punishment on the basis of offence caused is to set a moving standard, subject to the whim of the majority, to which you could also be held.

It may be true that the majority of people are also offended in the same way, so you are on the mob's side. But what about the day you are in the minority? Causing offence with things you don't find distasteful? The police will come knocking and you've only yourself to blame.

Frankly, some people should also grow backbones. You have far deeper problems than someone offending you if your first reaction is to demand that the state step in and protect you from words you don't like. You will struggle to get on in the world unless you build up some resilience and character.

People like Hopkins thrive off the free speech martyrdom offered them by angry mobs and aggressive policing of offence.

A much simpler, saner and more liberal way to deal with the likes of Hopkins is to let them make stupid comments and calmly tell them why they're wrong. Or just block them on Twitter.