Russell Brand sex allegations: How TikTok has appointed itself judge and jury in the court of public opinion
and live on Freeview channel 276
I'm scrolling in TikTok under the hashtag #russellbrand and something strange is happening.
Instead of the algorithm crunching every bit of information about me and serving the content it assumes will most likely fit my profile to reinforce any existing views (yawn), it's playing a game of tennis with related content and showing a troubling but essentially balanced collection of opinion - and not a single account I've interacted with before. But what's clear is that young people - mainly women - are very successfully making their voices heard amid the cacophony of opinion from loud, established, voices largely from the anti-establishment right wing. Everyone has a hot take.
It's now five days since the broadcast of The Dispatches programme Russell Brand: In Plain Sight, which outlined shocking allegations of rape and sexual abuse against the comedian and has led to a media and social-media furore that shows no sign of stopping. With police seemingly not in a position to make any arrests or charges, every trained journalist know this means proceedings are not yet active. In turn this means the litany of restrictions implemented in law make sure every individual gets a fair trial are not live, so it's seemingly a free for all and there's a battle to control the narrative. Yet it's loudest on Tik Tok, an intensely powerful Chinese-owned video social platform.
The social media giant, where Brand has 2.3m followers, has already had to answer to the government, telling a committee of MPs that he does not profit from his account where he describes himself as "I am a comedian. I am interested in change. I am interested in wakening,' Meanwhile, his You Tube account has been de-monetised in the wake of the accusations. Yet Tik Tok is playing judge and social media scrollers are the jury in this highly emotive court of public opinion.
First up, I'm shown a rundown of the Dispatches/Channel 4 programme which broke the story, followed up Katie Hopkins, the well known far-right media commentator who describes the story around Brand as "darkness descending" and rather predictably the "mainstream media" of a conspiracy. "He's always said he had sex addiction,' she argues. Next, an account called Darth Unicorn accused Katie Hopkins et al of "using you" for their own gain after doing "obnoxious horrible things" in her/their own past.
Then a young woman, MynameisNatasha, recounts a "harrowing" live Russell Brand show she attended and its inherent misogyny. And then we get Kris who says Russell predicted his own cancellation, blaming the "matrix" and "Tory corruption" for the accusations and defending his actions. Another young woman, Katy Jgin, shows clips of Russell making lewd actions on stage, saying "Abusive men usually tell us they are abusive' or as she put it "he told us who he was all along." Another, Rosie, blames society by saying "Russell Brand's "womanizer persona helped hide his behaviour in plain sight," and "assault is motivated by power." There's no doubt which voices are the most lucid in these hot takes - and it's not Katie Hopkins.
Meanwhile the court of public opinion has its own voices of reason, like OlyDobson961, who rationally reminds every Tik Toker of the "fundamental legal principles' and urges caution while watching ideologically and agenda driven opinion. "Stay neutral," he argues. "Everyone has the right to innocent until proven guilty."
What's more troubling perhaps is the torrent of videos discussing the victims. Victim-blaming is hardly news and women are usually the victim. But the narrative 'why are they hiding their faces?' is under hot debate on Tik Tok. One user, Hilib.and.Bariis asks why Russell is accessed of rape but asks why victims went to the media instead of police, using hashtag #thematrix. The aforementioned Rosie hits back at this, explaining "women don't go the police for massive variety of reasons" and cites the low levels of actual conviction for rape. This is backed by TV news journalist Vic Derbyshire, who points out two in 100 rapes recorded by police last year resulted in charges, let alone a conviction. Of course, trained journalists would also be aware if the reporting restrictions which mean any victim/alleged victim of a sex crime is entitled to automatic anonymity in law, unless they choose to identify themselves.
So Tik Tok has appointed itself the court - but what will the jury decide? My hot take is that justice and common sense will prevail.