Not really sure where to start with this whole thing, so lets go to the beginning...
On 3rd May 2007 the UK awoke to the news of a missing child. One would like to say a rare occurrence, however on the grand scheme of things, its sadly not rare at all. In fact to quote one source reporting in 2008, 'Every year more than 100,000 children go missing in the UK.... that's one every FIVE minutes.' Quite startling I am sure you will agree.
However, while this was a UK child, the disappearance had happened thousands of miles away in Portugal, Praia da Luz to be precise. The child I am sure you have worked out by now is Madeline McCann.
Over the next days, weeks, months, and now years, the parents of Madeline would somehow steal the hearts of people around the world. Part of this was due to the huge explosion of social media around this time. Facebook, Twitter etc were all in the process of becoming global names, and for some of us a way of life. Every opinion, ever suggestion, theory or sometimes fact, would be known globally within minutes of its publication, all thanks to social media, Blackberry, iPhone, and the mobile internet. Because of this, and the constant feed of both genuine information, as well as a whole lot of speculation, the McCann's gained what I can only describe as 'fame'.
But what was the fame for exactly. Well this is where things get a little bit messy. So lets break it down.
First up, simple facts.
Madeline was taken from an apartment in the complex in where the family were staying. Having been left in the apartment with her two younger siblings, somehow she went missing. Her parents at the time of the said disappearance were at a tapas restaurant in the same complex. From basic facts, the children were out of both audio and visual range of their parents. However 'regular' checks were made on them.
The Portuguese Police would take lead on the case, and along with the majority of the UK media, would subsequently point the finger of blame at the parents. Reasons for this blame ranged from simple irresponsibility and abandonment, through to foul play and suggestions of murder and disposal of Madeline's body.
As time passed, the Portuguese Police would ask for or allow intervention in the investigation from Scotland Yard, senior investigating officers would be removed from the case, and charges considered both against the parents, and officers involved. At one point the parents were considered arguido's (suspects)
OK so I shall break from the fact reporting for a moment because this is where it gets interesting.
Arguido's, the first was Robert Murat (later cleared of ANY involvement in the case). The name came to the headlines quite quickly, and certain media sources, ok Sky News took it upon themselves to dig up EVERYTHING they could about this man. Making suggestions of child porn on his PC, paedophile activities and many other very damaging accusations. Of course this all lead nowhere, and after the well orchestrated destruction of Mr Murat's reputation and name, they simply moved on.
Next, with the McCann's now being considered suspects too, the media (yes Sky and others) turned their attention to them. As the use of so called 'cadaver dogs' begun, and reports of indications in the apartment spread, the media turned their attention to foul play. Over the coming days, which ramping up the huge media appeal for information on Madeline's whereabouts, the media also took aim at the parents, speculating on what two trained medical professionals could have done. Drugged, accidentally killed, disposed of in a panic.. The list was quite wild, but also lets be honest, plausible too.
So lets move on a few years.
After much support, a whole heap of cash donations, and lets be honest now, a lot of bad feeling towards the parents too, the media circus was over, right? No, far from it.
In fact what was coming next was probably going to eclipse the disappearance of Madeline. To be honest, her face is probably one of the best known child faces in the world. Having not been out of the media for more than a month in any given year, now the poster child for any story which contains the words 'missing child', Madeline will most definitely never be forgotten.
But now it was publicity, book writing, pleas for more help, repeated TV appeals etc, and of course don't forget the media. Their ongoing love affair with the whole matter, the ratings topping McCann stories just kept coming. I have never quite worked out what the attraction, interest or attachment between Sky and the McCann's is. Sky seem to have an insatiable appetite for stories involving Kate and Gerry. Maybe its the controversy it causes, maybe its the Twitter trend topping #HashTags they end up with, who knows. All I know is, in the 7 years since Madeline disappeared, statistically almost THREE QUARTERS OF A MILLION children have at some point been reported missing in the UK.
I sadly concede that there have been other flash in the pan cases, all of which have ended in tragic and heartbreaking discoveries of bodies. Tearing families apart after their beloved child has been taken, and subsequently murdered and simple disposed of. All the children have been subjected to horrific ordeals. My heart goes out to these families each time, and I wish the perpetrators of these crimes the most miserable of lives or deaths.
However, with no real leads in the case almost since the day Madeline was reported missing, the media continue to follow this one. Maybe there is something about the family we don't know, or maybe the media are just hoping for the exclusive on one day getting closure on the story.
So, the recent crusades of the media regarding the McCanns.....
A few days ago Sky doorstepped a woman known as @sweepyface (twitter name), and revealed her to the world as a despicable hateful woman who was harassing and abusing the McCann's via twitter. Before I go on, its worth pointing out that the McCann's neither use Twitter, nor (as they said themselves) had any knowledge of this womans comments. However they applauded their mates at Sky for stamping on this 'troll' and agreed she should be used as an example.
So the Sky story, lets look at it. Using quotes and examples of 'hate' tweets aimed at the McCann's ranging from questions of their morality and integrity in their actions on May 3rd 2007, right through to threats against the lives of them, and suggestions of torture, waterboarding and other vile suggestions. The problem is, in this quote cloud as I like to call it, the only tweets with their author NOT obscured were those of @sweepyface . Most were mildly aggravated comments directs at #McCanns , but to someone not paying much attention to detail, and the way the so called investigation was aimed at this person, it would appear that she was responsible for ALL the comments on screen.
Now the reason I mention the comments of the parents is a simple one. If I fire a gun screaming someones name, but 100 miles away from them, is that attempted murder? If I blog about someone, saying mean things about them, but knowing they nor their friends will ever read my comments, is that liable? If I tweet angrily about a subject, airing my opinion, am I a troll because you disagree with me. My point being, if the other party involved is never subjected to my opinions or comments, have I caused them any upset?
Later that day Sky would proudly announce a Q&A session with one of their reporters. #AskBrunt . Now far be it for me to judge, but what exactly was the aim of this session going to be. Would it really be objective, and what did it possibly hope to achieve. Well as 2pm rolled around, and anger towards Sky grew on twitter, surprise surprise #AskBrunt started to trend. I bet that was great for commercial purposes eh! As the session started, and the mood worsened, it was obvious that not much was really going to happen. With questions ranging from angry to funny, on and off topic all being thrown into the pot, 25-30 mins was spent answering a select few. At the end of it, the discussion continued, the # continued to trend, and the fat cats sat staring at their success of re-using the McCann story once again to get some attention.
Tonight, it has started to feed into the media that @sweepyface has been found dead in a hotel.
I don't claim to know of every tweet she sent, nor do I necessarily agree with her actions or comments. But what I do know is the McCann's say that they had no knowledge of this person, therefore she had done them no harm. However, the whole of the UK knew who she was by the evening, her face plastered on papers and websites, both hatred and support pouring out for her. It would appear at this point, going by the statements of the police, that she took her own life.
Is this justice? Is this 'the right thing'. Did she 'deserve it' for the tweets she had posted?
Well that is a matter of opinion. and this is mine.
Sky News, obsessed with the McCann story, onto a good thing using their name to 'help' the family find Madeline, took it a step too far.
Doorstepping a soft target who they had tracked down, isolating her and using the tweets of other Twitter users they for some reason decided to obscure, rain hell on her and somehow gave the impression that @sweepyface was the ringleader in a UK wide campaign of hate and vulgar behaviour towards their mates the McCanns.
Their choice of reporting technique, the manner in which they melted her into the mixing pot of other truly sickening Twitter users, and their convincing opinions that she was a truly hateful woman, led to her taking her life.
So,,, lets summarise.
The McCanns went out for dinner leaving their kids at home. One was taken.
The McCanns shot to fame as the irresponsible parents who left their kids home alone.
Sky News somehow struck up a friendship, dedicating a whole section of the Sky News website to Madeline for a long period of time.
Sky News seemingly took on the McCann name as some sort of franchise.
When their franchise came under too much fire, they bit back.
And now here we are.
No, nothing is clear cut, we don't know the facts of what happened in Praia da Luz that evening. But quite frankly, and with the greatest of respect, its time for the world to move on and leave the family to work through it in private. The remaining kids will probably spend the rest of their lives in the media spotlight if Sky have anything to do with it.
Speaking as a father who was part of the upbringing of my own daughter for her early years, I can say in MY opinion, and those who I socialise with... It is NOT normal behaviour to leave a child out of sight. From one room to another yes, answer the front door, get the washing in, YES. To go out to dinner for the evening.. Ermm nope. Not in my books. ANYONE who does this, or has done this certainly in the last decade should question their actions.
So that's me done.
I just want to finish up by saying, how do you think the two examples below compare.
@sweepyface and her comments into seemingly empty space. Comments which would never reach their target.
Sky News, and the systematic character assassinations of people that flash on their radar as involved in a case, who subsequently turn out to have NO involvement.
Robert Murat and Christopher Jefferies are good examples of this kind of behaviour.
If putting hateful, hurtful and damaging comments and opinions of people into the social domain is considered 'trolling' , well Sky News, I suggest you get writing a dossier... on yourselves!
If you have read this far, please read this last bit.
I in NO WAY condone the behaviour of genuine internet trolls who target, abuse, and attempt to destroy the lives of innocent people. There is a big difference between targeted troll campaigns, and people who genuinely wish to express themselves in the public domain. It is for these people who choose to express themselves, for which blogs like this, and social media sites such as Twitter were made for.
Do my opinions differ from yours? Maybe so. Does it make me vile, wrong or insensitive? I would like to think not. If we all agreed on everything the world would be a dull place to say the least. There are rough guidelines to follow, but we all have our own limits. The thing to pay attention to is the intent in which the comments are made. If there is clear ill intent, and not just an interpretation of words which somehow offend you, then it should be reported and efforts made to cease the persons activities. If you just disagree with someone's opinion, no matter how strongly worded, then look away, move on, and forget about it.
Late night rants never look that good in the morning, so forgive any glaring faults, I will proof this again in the morning.
Thanks for reading and as ever, feel free to share.