Brenda Leyland: The McCanns, A Scarecrow And God
BRENDA Leyland continues to make news. Today’s round-up of the woman branded the “Madeleine McCann troll”:
New India Express – yep, it’s an international story:
…No one in the neat village of Burton Overy, Leics, suspected that Mrs Leyland had a cruel bone in her body, let alone the sort of mindset to pursue a vitriolic campaign again the grieving parents of the missing child, Madeleine McCann.
A likeable, churchgoing woman of no obviously strong views, she seemed more interested in gardening, photography and quizzes than any solitary obsession with tweeting. She also had a passionate, innocuous leading role in the village’s annual scarecrow competition.
Well, even Hitler liked dogs.
Brenda Leyland, nee Shevlin, was born in Stockport, Lancs, the daughter of Colin Shevlin, a squadron leader in the RAF, and his wife, Doreen. As a girl, she had attended the Convent of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in West Sussex, and went on to study at Goldsmith’s College, London University. Her marriage to Michael Leyland, a company director, ended around 2000 and he remarried in 2002. To say that Mrs Leyland, a 63-year-old divorcee with two grown-up sons, did not conform to the image of the incoherent, half-literate troller who spits poison as a reflex compensation for lack of self-esteem, is an understatement.
Maybe the stereotype is wrong? Maybe her so-called trolling was not her most defining character trait?
She fitted well, if unobtrusively, into the village life of Burton Overy. She was outwardly sociable, but there was an element of loneliness and disappointment in her life that had intensified with age…
So says the writer about a woman she never met.
Is social media having a worrying impact on our capacity for human empathy? asks Áilín Quinlan.
No. But go on…
A 63-year-old woman described by her neighbours as ‘God-fearing’ was found dead in an English hotel room earlier this week.
ISIS are god fearing. So..?
…Nowadays, people record and upload attacks on tourists, take selfies with homeless people and ‘share’ graphic snaps of drunken girls giving oral sex — for fun.
In the good ol’ days no-marks and loons just attacked, walked on by or stood and cheered.
We all did foolish, risky things when we were growing up, but nobody recorded it; we were never exposed to anonymous abuse.
My sister once received a load of poison pen letters. An anonymous phonecaller used to dial our number and ask about ‘pussy’. Anonymous abuse has always existed. Social media is less anonymous, maybe. You leave a footprint online. Brenda Leyland was not all that anonymous, after all.
Today, however, we’re only too eager to ‘share’ the hurt and humiliation of others, no matter how young or how vulnerable; many of us don’t think twice about exposing the plight, or ill-judged behaviour, of others to public derision and commentary. Our compassion has short-circuited, says Fergal Rooney, psychologist and coordinator of the psychological services for healthy relationships and sexuality at St John of God’s Hospital, in Dublin.
“Social media can make us override our capacity for empathy,” he says.
The ‘rush’ of uploading something onto social media can prevent an otherwise decent person from acknowledging the humanity of the subject they are secretly photographing or videoing, he says.
It’s like everyone became a policeman, observing the others for signs of wrongness.
“There’s an appeal in the idea that you post something that goes viral- and, if someone can post something that gets a high number of views, at some level that gives them status in the internet world. There is an appetite for salacious and extreme content — there is an appetite among viewers to see this stuff and that validates the means someone goes to just to get it.”
Brenda Leyland had 172 followers on twitter.
The Examiner focuses on the McCanns:
McCann parents silent after death of bullied woman
Why should they say anything publicly? They never mentioned her by name at any turn. Mrs Leyland, however, did mention them. Chelsea Hoffman rakes over old ground before adding:
Brenda Leyland — aka @Sweepyface — supposedly took her own life after days of torment and online abuse from actual trolls. These trolls targeted her with an obscene level of vitriol after Sky News carelessly exposed her as “the McCann troll” in a highly publicized display. However, she may not have even been a troll at all. This news report shares that Leyland posted 1000s of “hate tweets,” but none of them directly targeted Kate and Gerry McCann with death threats or any other threats. However, Leyland on the other hand was subject to numerous threats after her identity was exposed by Martin Brunt via Sky News.
Brenda Leyland’s twitter account did make allegedly libelous comments about the McCanns. Hoffman appears to be one of those fools who are either pro or anti-MccCann.
Elsewhere, Heather Mallick tells her fellow Canadians “How not to be a @sweepyface online”.
1. Don’t make statement not supported by fact?
In 2007, a British couple, Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors, went on a vacation to Portugal and their tiny daughter Madeleine was kidnapped in the night and likely murdered…
Hey, Heather Mallick. What about sticking to the facts?
It is generally assumed that Twitter trolls are drug-addicted or mentally disturbed men…
You don’t have to be on drugs to use Twitter, but it helps.
Do we blame the messenger who told us about Brenda Leyland’s tweeting? Roy Greesnlade writes:
We need to pick our way carefully through the farrago of claims, counterclaims and details to make a sensible analysis of competing grievances. First, vastly experienced Sky News crime correspondent Martin Brunt did nothing wrong by knocking on Leyland’s door.
Doorstepping is part of the methodology and culture of journalism, and not just in Britain. The fêted Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward did just that, as the movie All The President’s Men portrays. It is a necessary part of the verification process that underpins all responsible journalism.
Agreed. But who made the story so high on the news cycle? Who sent out the news crew?
The unusual aspect in the Sky News case is that it took place during a live broadcast. Although Brunt did not reveal Leyland’s identity or the location of her home, her face was, of course, seen on screen. That’s identification enough.
The case raises ethical problems because the broadcaster could not have known her mental and emotional state. It would surely have been better to have run an edited version rather than carry it live.
In the rush to scream ‘FIRST’, Sky erred. No checks. No balances. This was a local news story made national because the spun-out single-thread story of ‘Our Maddie’ puts bums on sets and fills a gap. We want to find out what happened to the child. This was an ugly sideshow.
It is not fair to say that Brunt had stalked or hounded Leyland, as his critics have claimed. He properly reported on Leyland’s vitriolic Twitter campaign against Kate and Gerry McCann. And she told him she was “entitled” to attack them.
Brunt in turn could argue that he was “entitled” to report on her activities. Disclosure is the point of journalism, and the facts of her tweeting are not in dispute. If people insult other people in a public forum, they must accept that they are open to public exposure, even if they use aliases.
Mrs Leyland had not been charged with any crime. Were those tweets even written by her? Accounts are hacked. Did anyone else have access to her account?
It is, of course, fair to defend Leyland’s right to freedom of expression, but collectively, her tweets — all of which were unpalatable, and some of which I found appalling — surely amounted to a form of bullying. They are a classic example of what we mean by “trolling”.
Other people who believe in the complicity of the McCanns in the death of their missing daughter, Madeleine, have tweeted worse, arguably illegal, comments. But that’s irrelevant to the overall argument about the media’s right to reveal Leyland’s attacks. She just happened to be the first to be identified.
The Hudderfields Examiner has a view:
The mirror held up by Sky News has seen some people attacking the channel for daring to ask someone who posted bile-filled missives on social media why they did it.
Some sections of social media believe Ms Leyland’s death is as a result of Sky. I would suggest that if ultimately Ms Leyland’s death is connected to those messages then surely the person who wrote them and put them onto a public open forum would be the one who should take responsibility.
Tragically it could be that Ms Leyland believed she had with her final act.
How did Sky find her name?