The death of Brenda Leyland on Saturday 4th October was a tragedy. The birth of social media has created a platform for opinions and anonymous postings. Even writing this blog makes me vulnerable to opinions that probably will conflict with mine.
Anybody who puts themselves into the public frame can expect to court controversy. We live in a free and democratic society, and the internet has no worldwide policing or agreed terms of acceptability.
The issue with the McCann story is that there are a lot of conflicting feelings about what happened. The only people who know the truth are the parents and we can choose to believe or disbelieve them, as is our right to choose. People have died for the right to choose, and to put restrictions on that choice because we are told to, negates that very freedom.
The one thing that is agreed is that the parents chose to leave three toddlers unattended for an extended period of time. We live in country that penalises parents for much less, and our child protection legislation is so prohibitive that we can be accused of child neglect or abuse over the smallest thing. For people who may have had contact with Social Services for any reason, the idea that the McCanns were told that they did “nothing wrong” is the total antithesis to the messages they are given by the same social services system targeting them or their families and friends. It makes people feel an anger towards the McCanns that may seem unfair, but is real, nonetheless. Some people feel they were told this because of their social status as doctors, unlike the majority of people targeted by Social Services, who are from poorer backgrounds.
People may be unhappy because the McCanns are often in the media. Being in the media can make you a public target because you are putting yourself into the public view. Many people who are in the public view are ripe for trolling.
But we do have to remember that this family is grieving for their missing child and that loss is very real and very painful for the family.
There is a well-known phrase amongst experienced internet “geeks” called “Do not feed the trolls.” This means that responding to their inflammatory remarks only makes them troll more. Ignoring them and blocking them is the best option. Most forums have a button to report posts, and if they are too nasty this is the most appropriate thing to do.
There is a difference between trolling, posting an unpopular opinion and making threats. I believe that outlawing offending people is a breach of free speech. Comedians do this all the time and people who make parodies are the same. Don’t put yourself into the public eye or air your opinions if you will become offended by the response. People will disagree with you, possibly, far more often than they will agree. That is human nature.
Making threats or accusing people of criminal acts without evidence is a different matter. Bullying is also unacceptable. If a target asks someone to stop harassing them and it continues then that harasser should face the weight of the law against them. If threats are made or accusations levelled then this should be investigated as well. Merely having a controversial opinion is certainly not grounds for criminal procedures.
Sky News should not have doorstepped Brenda. Clearly she was not in a good place mentally, and Martin Brunt should not have threatened her with the police. I believe he did not act in good faith towards her and should have allowed the police to arrest her or question her first before brandishing her a Troll. She was still innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Brenda was accused and found guilty by Sky News without a fair trial and I think lessons need to be learned from this. The woman was frightened so much and possibly targeted with the same hatred she was accused of levelling at the McCanns. In the end it appears that she took her own life. What despair she must have felt to do such a drastic thing!
And now her son, 5000 miles from his mum, has to grieve her loss with as many unanswered questions about her death as the McCanns have about losing Madeline.
I have read some comments about Brenda on Twitter, and I feel that those who are now trolling her in her death should face the same punishments that they cried out for her to receive. Are these people not aware of a term called hypocrisy?
Gerry McCann called for an example to be made of internet trolls, even though he had not read any of the postings himself. I really hope that he feels some of the pity for poor Brenda that he wants sent his way.
I am not making any accusations in this blog post. I am not stating my own views on the McCanns or their plight. I merely put into words some of the feelings people have that conflict with the accepted opinion and why they may be held, rightly or wrongly.
The internet is a difficult place to police. What if a troll is from the USA, where freedom of speech is a constitutional right?
In the end, if you don’t want to face criticism or be offended then don’t put yourself and your opinions out into cyberspace.