SARAH VINE: No army has ever matched the massed ranks of keyboard warriors backing Russell Brand online. I fear he may end up becoming an even bigger monster
Postponed, cancelled, suspended: the Russell Brand scandal is following a now- familiar trajectory.
First, the world reacts to growing accusations of sexual harassment, assault, coercion and rape. Since the initial Channel 4 documentary and newspaper investigation, more women have come forward to lodge complaints.
Then Brand’s promoters, publishers, former colleagues, and even some members of his own family — although not his father, who gave his son his first taste of depravity by paying for him to lose his virginity to a prostitute — distance themselves from the disgraced star.
Of these, by far the most significant is YouTube. Yesterday the streaming platform announced it was stopping Brand from making money from his 6.6 million subscribers — who earn him up to £1 million a year.
‘If a creator’s off-platform behaviour harms our users, employees or ecosystem, we take action to protect the community,’ the company said. ‘This decision applies to all channels that may be owned or operated by Russell Brand.’
SARAH VINE: Postponed, cancelled, suspended: the Russell Brand (pictured) scandal is following a now- familiar trajectory
Curiously, however, YouTube has not said that it will take down any of his content — or whether it will prevent him from uploading further videos. Brand seems free to continue releasing new films protesting his innocence — like the one he put out last Friday, ahead of these allegations being made public.
In other words, the firm is not banning him, just banning him from making money. This is an interesting approach.
In the past, people in Brand’s situation — accused of heinous crimes and convicted in the court of public opinion before a single arrest has been made — have been obliterated on social media.
In the case of Twitter/X, their accounts were suspended or banned outright, and the same is true across Meta platforms (Facebook and Instagram).
It’s all part of the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ culture than has taken hold over the past few years.
But not this time. Brand’s Twitter/X account is still up and running, with its 11.2 million followers. He’s still on Instagram, with 3.8 million followers. Catch him on Facebook, with 5.9 million fans, and throw in another 2.3 million on TikTok. Add YouTube, and the total is nudging 30 million. That’s almost half the population of the UK.
Of course, there may be a degree of overlap. And people who follow other people don’t always do it because they agree with them, more because they just want to know what they’re up to.
But even if you discount all that, the man still has the kind of traction that any politician would sell their first-born for — and throw in their grandmother for free.
This, by the way, is not a defence of Brand. As I’ve said in the past (as far back as 2013, in fact, when I first started writing for this newspaper), I’ve always thought him a loathsome lothario.
I found it mystifying that clever, beautiful, successful women such as Jemima Khan and Kate Moss would even entertain such a lowlife, let alone marry him, as Katy Perry did.
As my daughter said to me the other day when this story first broke: ‘Mum, he’s a man who wears black eyeliner, what more do you need to know?’
And she’s right. This whole idea that this predator was somehow ‘hiding in plain sight’ is complete nonsense. Brand wasn’t ‘hiding’: he was very obviously — and at every opportunity — signalling his highly handsy nature. There are endless clips and quotes to prove it.
SARAH VINE: Brand wasn’t ‘hiding’: he was very obviously — and at every opportunity — signalling his highly handsy nature. There are endless clips and quotes to prove it
The scandal is why so many were seduced by his tawdry charm, and why he was allowed to become so powerful in the entertainment world.
In particular, the BBC and Labour, under Ed Miliband, legitimised him by not only allowing him to indulge in his crass behaviour (e.g. Sachsgate, in which Brand and Jonathan Ross made lewd references to Brand’s brief fling with Andrew Sachs’s granddaughter during a prank call to the late actor in 2008, which did eventually cost Brand his job at Radio 2) but also endorsing him as a person of merit.
It was all part of a nasty Noughties lad culture in which anyone who didn’t ‘get the joke’ was considered a stuffy old reactionary.
For example, The Mail on Sunday, which pursued the Sachsgate story, believing (rightly) that Brand and Ross’s behaviour was unacceptable, was widely ridiculed. As was the young woman in question, Georgina Baillie.
Marina Hyde — of The Guardian, no less — wrote a piece telling Baillie: ‘Please just let it go. They were total scumbags, but it’s over. O-V-A-H.’
She concluded that ‘the world can now be divided into people who genuinely think caring about this c**p is important, and people you might wish to know socially.’ So much for the sisterhood, eh?
Personally, I wouldn’t even have got in a lift on my own with Brand. But can you really blame women for thinking he was safe to be around when not only did a major political party offer him its unflinching seal of approval, but so, too, did widely respected and influential commentators — and even grand old Auntie herself?
When trying to work out who is dangerous, isn’t it normal to trust the people who have been endorsed by respected, publicly funded organisations? No good clutching your pearls now, Miliband, the BBC, Hyde et al (whose about-turn headline in yesterday’s Guardian was: ‘The brave victims of Russell Brand’s misogyny deserve full support’). You were all part of the culture that enabled this individual in the first place.
This is why I think YouTube and the rest are making a big mistake. You either think these allegations warrant censure, or you don’t. Silicon Valley can’t have it both ways — keep the clicks but ditch the p***k.
But then perhaps even they can’t discount — or, for that matter, control — the power of their own creation.
The truth is, Brand (pictured) has spent years carefully cultivating — some might say grooming — a cult-like online following. Who knows, perhaps he anticipated something like this would eventually come his way, and cleverly decided to build himself an insurance policy
The truth is, Brand has spent years carefully cultivating — some might say grooming — a cult-like online following. Who knows, perhaps he anticipated something like this would eventually come his way, and cleverly decided to build himself an insurance policy. Either way, it’s paid off.
Whether you think his supporters are cranks and conspiracy theorists or simply open-minded, curious individuals who believe in freedom of expression, they are legion. They dwarf any TV or newspaper audience.
No army in history has ever matched the massed ranks of keyboard warriors ready to support Brand online. Even the most cursory glance at the messages on his YouTube channel confirms this.
‘Stay strong and stay free’; ‘Truth-teller’; ‘Don’t let them stop you’… message after message of defiance and encouragement, an unfailing belief that these accusations are nothing more than a conspiracy by the ‘mainstream media’ to bring down a brave man — indeed, a martyr to the truth — whose only crime has been to expose the sinister forces that supposedly run the world.
And while they may not quite be ready to take up arms in defence of their leader, they are by no means all loners cowering in their mum’s basements, either: glamorous TV presenter Beverley Turner, who presents a daily breakfast show on GB News alongside my colleague Andrew Pierce, has robustly defended Brand, calling him ‘a hero’ and saying he stood up for ordinary people, for the disenfranchised and forgotten.
It all reminds me rather awkwardly of another charismatic populist with an eye for the ladies and a tendency to dismiss any criticism of questionable behaviour as being part of a conspiracy to bring him down: Donald Trump.
A man whose followers so resented his removal from office via the democratic process that they stormed the Capitol building, egged on by his claim that the 2020 election had been rigged by the ‘radical Left’; a man who only seems to draw strength from his critics, for whom every accusation, every indictment, every ruling against him only fuels the fire in the belly of those who consider him their saviour.
The more he comes under attack, the more they love him.
Judging from the past few days, Brand is very similar. He may or may not be guilty of the crimes of which he is accused. But it may also be that this no longer matters. In telling their stories, his alleged victims might have hoped to finally obtain some sort of justice. The tragedy is they may find they’ve simply ended up creating an even bigger monster.