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RSS 2.0

Trolling makes us all Truman

By Mal Fletcher - posted Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The sad death of Brenda Leyland, the British woman who allegedly Twitter-trolled Kate and Gerry McCann over the disappearance of their daughter, demonstrates again how our sense of anonymity is failing to adjust to the realities of social media.

Ms Leyland, whose death is not being treated as suspicious, was one of dozens who reportedly stood accused of posting inflammatory online messages about the McCann family.

A few days ago she was asked by a television reporter why she had done so. (There may and perhaps should now be questions asked about TV's habit of doorstepping people on camera, when they have been accused but not charged.)


Ms Leyland replied: 'I'm entitled to do that', before adding that she hoped she hadn't broken the law.

Twitter, like most other forms of social media, is not a like-for-like alternative to a private telephone call, or even a megaphone that can be used from behind a veil of secrecy.

Social media are by design social. They are forms of broadcast media, where the traditional model of the few-broadcasting-to-the-many has been turned on its head.

Social media allow every user to become a broadcaster of sorts – able to share stories, opinions and ideas with as many listeners, readers or viewers as will 'tune in'.

The ease with which messages can be sent, however, is out of all proportion with their potential impact, both on the sender and on others who may be the subject of their missives.

Doubtless, the parents of Madeleine McCann have suffered terribly, not only as a consequence of the apparent kidnapping itself but as a result of the way some people seem intent on blaming them for their situation.


Whatever their emotional reaction to the case, most people won't claim to know all of the details surrounding Madeleine McCann's disappearance. Blanket media coverage cannot guarantee us a detailed perspective.

As Malcolm Muggeridge once noted, 'The camera always lies.' Without any effort to deceive, just the mere fact that someone points a lens in one direction will mean that other things will be missed.

Recognising this, the majority of social media exponents will feel unqualified to comment on the case, aside from expressing empathy for the McCann family. Or perhaps sharing their thoughts on the way the case has been handled by officials.

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This article was first published on 2020Plus.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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