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Katie Hopkins is a true Twitter villain

We created her with retweets: she kicks our emotional funny bone, and we can't help but lash out in return

Katie Hopkins takes issues people hold dear and belches all over them. Ramadan, motherhood, social equality; she’s ridden roughshod over them all.  Even in her milder moments, she seeks out society’s sensitive points and scratches the nerve endings raw. Her latest online offering follows the inquest into Peaches Geldof’s death. With characteristic crassness she tweeted: “Peaches' fatal syringe was in a box by the bed - along with some sweets. She was taking care of her baby son after all.”

Her comments provoked a slew of outrage across social media, especially as Hopkins dedicated her entire Sun column in April to explaining how she wasn't going to comment on Peaches' passing, because the mother-of-two “wouldn’t have wanted her to”. The Independent covered her hypocrisy, and the outpouring of support for Peaches.

The difference between Hopkins’ earlier column and her later tweets is revealing. It shows that she too has recognised what some of us have suspected for a while: that her notability is fanned by social media outrage alone, and wilts in the tangles of nuance. Unless Twitter froths with anger and engages with her tirades, much of the media is loathe to give her the air of publicity.  When people react, it gives Hopkins legitimacy. Even the people who profess to hate her know they are encouraging further media coverage. So why do we continue to feed the troll? 

The simple answer is we just can’t help it. Social media is reaction dressed up as opinion, and Hopkins kicks our emotional funny bone. We can't help but lash out in return. According to one theory, people mainly share things that provoke “aroused” emotions, like anger, awe, joy, and surprise. Articles and arguments that are reasonable and nuanced may make people think, but it won’t make them share. Internal reflection isn't allied to the kind of short-form public statements that social media demands.

The other reason people share is to air their opposition publicly. They are seeking validation from their followers whilst trying to position themselves in as favourable a light as possible. Damning Katie Hopkins is too great an opportunity to miss for some people who feel it important to engage in online ethical posturing. For example, Hopkins tweeted on Ramadan: “Ramadan typically brings a spike in violence in Middle East. I get grumpy when I don’t eat but I don’t blow things up. Religion of peace?” The users who responded that she was being Islamophobic and offensive were right, and perfectly entitled to say so, but there’s no doubt that some were motivated to make such a statement purely in order to be endowed with a shining liberal halo.

People have long been in the public eye purely for being outrageous.  Liz Hurley and her safety pin dress. One of the stars of The Only Way is Essex in an asymmetrical man-thong. What is slightly different about Hopkins is that post-Apprentice, her notoriety depends solely on how much she is talked about on Twitter.

Tweet, rile and repeat. It’s Hopkins’ career plan. But I’m wondering  if even Queen Contrarian herself is starting to get sick of the predictability of it all. Interspersed with these carefully constructed nuggets of outrage, there are some genuinely amusing jokes and self-depreciating observations. They reveal a woman who is intelligent and self-aware. Sometimes I think Twitter has it wrong. It’s not her who is bitter and stupid, it’s us.