Brenda Leyland and Twitter Storms

This is an emotive and controversial subject so it’s worth reminding ourselves of my standard disclaimer.
On Thursday, I was interviewed on Sky News about free speech on social media.   On Sunday evening, it emerged that the woman confronted by Martin Brunt in his associated report had been found dead in a hotel in Leicester.  At the time of writing details about the circumstances of Brenda Leyland’s death have not been made public.
This development raises all sorts of new questions about the conduct of the media, about discourse on social media, about the targetting of other social media users by online vigilantes, and about mental health issues.  I will not try to answer them here, but I will raise a couple of points I think are pertinent.
First, the entire Twitter history of Ms Leyland’s @SweepyFace Twitter account can currently be viewed and downloaded via GrepTweet  (or here as a .txt file).  There are over 4,000 tweets in the account and all of them appear to be about the McCanns… or rather, about #McCann, the ongoing “he said, she said” debate between pro- and anti- tweeters.  Browsing through the tweets, I see none that I would describe as threats or abuse.  The tweets do not directly address the McCanns, who are not on Twitter.
Related to this: its unclear which, if any of these tweets were in the dossier sent to the police and seen by Martin Brunt.
Second, it is incredibly sad and ironic that the death of a woman acused of trolling should mean that the Sky News reporter who exposed Brenda Leyland is now the subject of a Twitter storm.  This week I have often thought of this message from legal blogger Jack of Kent which sums up the situation perfectly:

8 Replies to “Brenda Leyland and Twitter Storms”

  1. I had a look at her tweets and recently she had been tweeting about a woman, whom I won’t name here, whom it appears worked for the holiday company where Madeleine was staying when she was abducted. She had accused the woman of being a twitter user and in the pay of the McCanns, claimed she was a prostitute and put up details of the woman’s workplace and tweeted this repeatedly. Isn’t this abusive?

      1. There are quite a few of them, but they seem concentrated on her most recent tweets. She has accused another twitter user, one supportive of the McCann’s, of being one of the nannies who worked at the resort where Madeleine McCann was snatched. There is no indication that this is in anyway true. But none the less she and others decided this was the nanny and she was being paid to tweet by the McCanns which they believed was illegal. She, and others, then tweeted the nannies work details, accusations she was a prostitute, insulted her appearance, and it also appears that her Facebook account was targeted. None of this was done using nice language either. Leyland also tweeted that the nanny was now scared and that she thought this was funny.

  2. I find that tweet from David Allen Green to be repugnant and dishonest. Literary erudition (of any kind) is a very poor substitute for having the courage to actually look at the particulars involved here.
    He is attempting to establish a gloss of consensus (clever, no doubt) into which certain people can happily gather without actually requiring them to take the issue seriously. If anybody is showing a flagrant disregard for what Orwell tried to articulate, then it is DAG.
    The McCann saga has been a 7-8 year long tragedy. Imagining that this sorry state can now be so easily waved through – by a 140 character hit of Orwell/Golding – is the very essence of Newspeak.
    The true situation, I am afraid, is entirely inverted. The “hate speech” of our age is the slick consensus that DAG is here trying to articulate. It is the self righteousness and the sanctimony of a nodding consensus which enforces it’s own brutal reductionism. It is applied by those who clearly “know better” than to get involved.
    We have seen this daily from our MSM as they now coalesce around an easy consensus of what must be the “mental state” of “these people”…the “trolls”. As I have said elsewhere, this is the corollary of the very worst abuse that was directed at Brenda Leyland – it is it’s Newspeak ratification.
    At another time DAG has tweeted about suicide. He quotes the Samaritan’s advice that suicide rarely has a single cause. That said, I am sure we are all happy to move along from this and reflect upon “these people” without ever needing to engage with the reality of what this lady was struggling to achieve for a little girl; and for which reason she was so brutally accosted. Try looking at the fear in her eyes.

    1. The tweet from David Allen Green under his Jack of Kent moniker was from July this year. It was not about the #McCann troll dossier or Brenda Leyland. If anyone is making literary allusions to this case then its me.
      But the tweet and the idea behind it really does resonate with me. This is not to deny the tragedy of the Madeleline McCann disappaearance or the sincerity either of those questioning Kate & Gerry McCann, or those seeking to defend them. Rather, it is in the tone of the discourse which, to someone new to the debate, seems to be predicated on mutual distain, bordering on hatred.

      1. Robert, Thanks for the reply.
        There is intense anger over this of course. Whether that blurs towards hatred I don’t know; but again, to me, that is something of an academic question. It still fails to address the particulars at stake here.
        When I look across the Internet (I left social media long ago!) it isn’t so much the nature of the debate that strikes me – but it’s complete absence. And that is the problem. Debate has become the taboo. That is the frustration.
        I feel some sadness for Martin Brunt. There has been a cat and mouse game played between the MSM and Twitter for a long time now. And Martin has been a significant part of it.
        But there is a contrast to be made here which highlights the problem. I believe that one of Brenda’s last tweets was to Martin himself (who had, ’pregnantly’, followed her just days before). It was a polite tweet that simply asked him to try and represent the questions that she had raised – at the very least to see them aired. He was in a position to do so. She had a following of what? 200?
        Tragically she died alone, and without a reply. It appears that she had asked for the impossible – this debate – those questions. There are no legal bloggers that have shown a willingness to address them, no journalists – no one. Hence, in my opinion, Twitter has become what it is. Airless.
        This poor lady has been tragically failed by all of us.
        Again, thanks so much for your reply…a little bit of air at least!!

        1. Looking through her tweets she asked very few questions just flung accusations left right and centre including accusations about the parents directed to their children.
          The questions that people like Leyland had have been answered by the Portuguese authorities who, when they closed the case, wrote a report going through the reasons why the McCanns had been made suspects and why these reasons did not amount to anything. The UK police also reviewed the case and after doing so were able to rule the McCanns out and announced this publicly. Numerous documentaries and very recently a book address the questions. The leveson inquiry addressed many questions too. I dont think there has been anither recent case where so much infotmation has been made avasilable to the public. Yet none of these are good enough for the likes of Leyland because they all agree nothing points to the McCann’s involvement. On top of this many of the questions seem to be based not on facts but on internet rumour despite repeated claims that she just repeated what was in the files.
          No answer was good enough for Leyland unless it was that the McCann’s were guilty. A book published recently which answered these questions was subject to a campaign of hate on amazon by leyland. Anyone who did not say the mccanns were guilty were part of a conspiracy according to Leyland and she believed these gave her the right to harrass them.

  3. The files, fearsomely lengthy! but still there for “neutral” debate (to quote Ms Leyland’s appeal to Martin Brunt), as opposed to polemic:
    Confirmation here of their authenticity; and indeed to the origins of a recent book which it was clearly hoped might be released in concert with SY completing their own investigations (even though the whereabouts of Madeleine remains unknown).
    (Last comment!)

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