How should we deal with professional trolls? The same way we deal with regular trolls; by refusing to feed them.
The UK’s most prolific causer of controversy Katie Hopkins frequently draws the ire of the general public by making extreme statements. What follows is a popular outcry, a whole lot of media attention, and more publicity for Hopkins. How could this not be an incentive for Hopkins to continue making such statements? Just as academics are incentivised to take a nuanced position, preempting and charitably addressing opposing ideas (by respect from peers, etc.), professional trolls are incentivised to make statements designed to anger the masses.
Recently, MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk reported Katie Hopkins to the police for some admittedly vile and racist tweets. I don’t want to defend such tweets, but I doubt that even Hopkins herself really believes them. The point is to stir up media attention, and that is what they did, with Danczuk’s reporting her to the police ensuring that Hopkins was all over the papers in the days following.
If I’m right and she doesn’t really believe what she’s saying much of the time, then providing a counter-opinion or attacking her isn’t going to enlighten her in any way. The only thing you can do is click the Unfollow, Block, or Mute button on Twitter, or grow a thicker skin.
I defend Hopkins on the grounds of free speech, but also I’d say that if you’re tired of her, and want her to stop being rewarded for saying these sorts of things, then don’t give her what she wants: attention1.
I’ll leave you with this, from a serious political candidate:
For the record, free speech is not an unassailable right. It's a privilege to be treated with care
— Simon Danczuk (@SimonDanczuk) March 31, 2015
1 Before someone points it out – yes I’m aware I’ve just written a blog post about her!