We’re responsible for our views, why shouldn’t public figures be?

By Katherine Rist

A major part of being a celebrity or politician is a reliance on the public as a collective of invested listeners. Whether or not your opinions are agreed with by this collective doesn’t matter, the words that come out of your mouth will be listened to because you either have a position or a talent that the public generally respects. With this comes responsibility and a realisation that you have the power to infiltrate and affect the lives of others.

The columnist and unpleasantly avid twitter user, Katie Hopkins, is just one example of how public figures must be held responsible for their previous views. She has recently been sued by food blogger, Jack Monroe, for tweeting defamatory and libellous tweets about Monroe’s opinions of vandalism on war memorials.

All this began when Hopkins accidentally tagged Monroe in the tweet rather than Laurie Penny, the New Statesman columnist. Penny originally said that she ‘[didn’t] have a problem’ with the vandalism as a form of protest, as ‘the bravery of past generations does not oblige us to be cowed today’. Hopkins then replied to Jack, ‘Scrawled on any memorials recently? Vandalised the memory of those who fought for your freedom. Grandma got any more medals?’.

However, instead of retracting and apologizing to Monroe, Hopkins deleted the tweet and responded with a barrage of abuse towards the food blogger. In this instance, Hopkins had a responsibility to: first, direct her opinions to the correct person; and second, own up to what she said.

Hopkins may not hold some of the opinions she preaches. However, as Hopkins decided to share these opinions on such a popular platform, she must’ve known that there would be backlash to her views. Furthermore, if she didn’t want to take responsibility for all of her opinions (whether she still believes them or not), then she shouldn’t share them with the public.

Similarly, former President of the United States, Barack Obama, is known for having made a ‘U-turn’ on the subject of gay marriage. He claimed in 2004 that ‘Marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman’, indicating that civil unions were more appropriate for same sex couples. In 2006, he changed his mind: ‘Decisions about marriage should be left to the states as they always have been’. However, in 2015, his views changed once again, as he supported the American Federal Court’s ruling for same-sex marriage to be legal across the whole country.

While in this case it’s certainly a positive that Obama changed his mind, he still must take responsibility for the views he originally held. By releasing these statements into the public domain, and placing himself on one side of the argument as part of his politics, he had to be prepared for repercussions. Obama once held the belief that marriage was only for a man and a woman. The fact that he has changed this belief (albeit a positive change), doesn’t give him a hall pass. We should still hold him responsible for how his words may have effected others in the past.

With fame comes an enormous responsibility, and those in the public eye must be held accountable for everything they say, even if said celebrity has since changed their mind on a particular view. We as members of the public are often held responsible for our past views, and if we share these with others, we are held responsible for them. So why should public figures not have the same responsibility?


Katherine Rist

Image courtesy of The Guardian

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