One death too many….

Ivowed never to comment on the Madeleine McCann case on this blog… but in light of what has happened over the last few days and because of a certain Portuguese Blogger Joana Morais deciding to put my twitter handle to the dossier that was handed to the police with regards to the online harassment of the McCann family, I feel I should clear my name.

First and foremost I was never part of the dossier people, in fact in all honesty I don’t know the identity of the people involved. So to accuse me, Ms Morais, you are libelling me and defaming my character, so please cease and desist and remove my name from that graphic you created and tweeted, which people are now retweeting on Twitter, now.

Should this dossier have been handed to the media?  In hindsight no.

My opinion is that the media should have reported on such a dossier being given to the Police, but they should never have acted like judge and jury as they did in this case.  They could have given Brenda Leyland the chance to appear on camera if she so wished… but they should have applied pressure, if any pressure was needed, on the Police as to what they were doing with the dossier.

As far as I am concerned the harassment the McCanns are suffering on Twitter is a matter for the Police and the Police alone. The media are NOT judge and jury and they should never be.  The Leveson inquiry showed us what people went through, due to press intrusion. How innocent people were character assassinated and made to look as if they were guilty of a crime when they were totally innocent.  The Leveson Inquiry told us how headlines were made up… just to sell papers and how leaks from sources were NOT checked and verified, and lies and smears were printed in order to satisfy editorial headlines and paymasters.

With regards to the tragic death of Brenda Leyland, and that is what it is, very tragic; I can’t help but feel compassion for both Brenda and her family at this sad time.  What her thoughts must have been, to take such drastic action is beyond comprehension.  Perhaps the public humiliation and the stares and glares of village residents was too much for her.  Who knows?  My only wish, is that I wished she had found someone to talk to and not take the action she did.  Whether the guilt of what she did was too much for her to bear?  Or whether the prospect of spending time in jail frightened her? Again nobody knows.   But her death was her decision… albeit a tragic one.

As for Martin Brunt doorstepping her, well the facts are this…

  • Martin Brunt never divulged her address.
  • Journalists for years have been doorstepping people, we even watch programmes where dodgy builders have been caught on camera and asked pertinent questions due to their actions.  But in this case it was wrong, simply because there could have been pending charges laid against those named in the dossier.  It was down to the Police and not the media to name and shame. Identities should have only been revealed if and when these people were hauled before the courts and found guilty of their crimes.
  • Martin Brunt went to great lengths to say Brenda Leyland was not the worst offender by a long shot and throughout his broadcast he referred to her as Sweepyface and never used her real name.

We know how the other media reacted when they got wind of the story, but what we don’t know is, if they descended on Brenda’s home town, like a pack of wolves.  And if the way the media hounded, stalked and doorstepped the McCanns is anything to go by… if they decided to track down Brenda and pressured her for  an interview, then my sympathies go out to Brenda Leyland for having to deal with such a media onslaught.  Whatever Brenda Leyland did… one thing she didn’t deserve and that was to feel so alone, so abandoned and backed into a corner where the only way out she could see was to end it all.

As for the McCanns taking the blame, please don’t be silly and blame them.  They have never forced Brenda Leyland or anyone else for that matter, to post such horrendous comments on Twitter.  People do that of their own free will.  People have to learn to take responsibility for their own actions.  We are all human, we make mistakes, but we can see the error in our ways and make amends.

Just take a step back for a moment and imagine how you would feel if you were constantly at a barrage of abuse on social media platforms?  Would you just ignore it?  Or would you, want all those that are hurting, you and your family, both mentally and possibly physically to be held accountable for their actions?  The McCanns have categorically said they don’t use social media… how can they?

We have seen what happens when people even try to get a woman’s figurehead on a £10 note… they are threatened with rape and physical harm.  Can you imagine what would happen if the McCanns decided to take to Twitter?  They would be abused constantly.  Do we as the public have the right to hound people off of Twitter or put them in fear of joining Twitter? Most certainly not.  We are human beings, not vigilantes.

Eventually, the McCann’s youngest will want to be on Twitter and Facebook, just like their friends. What will happen should people find out they are on Twitter?  Again they would be abused or have tweets and messages directed at them blaming their parents for what happened to their sister.  Even today I read a comment from a South African businessman, who is threatening to tell the McCann’s youngest something he firmly believes.  Something that if he bothered to check his facts is totally impossible.

But how can we stop this harassment and persecution of people on Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media?  Because something has to be done… and it is not going to happen unless every nation on this planet gets together and agrees that online bullying and harassment is a criminal offence and something needs to be done to stop it.

The only solution I can see is to stop anonymity.  If we decided to take a megaphone out into our streets and lambast our neighbours because we don’t like them… the police would be involved and we would be charged with possible harassment and breach of the peace. But could we do this under anonymity?  Of course not, we couldn’t go out into our streets and use a pseudonym of ‘Imatwat’ could we?  We couldn’t walk into our local pub and shout obscenities at the landlord using our ‘Imatwat’ pseudonym.  We would be known by our real identity… so why are we allowed to use pseudonyms online.

Perhaps if people were made to use their real names… they might be less willing to spill their bile all over the place.  Yes there will be those with enough bravado, like an ex-solicitor and South African businessman who do use their own names, who will constantly continue their campaigns.. but that is when the law is needed and when it should be used to the fullest. Persecution of innocent people is not acceptable, it never has been and it never will be.  We need to protect the vulnerable, those who are easily influenced by others.  But above all we need to protect the victims of such attacks on the internet.

Our banks issue us with a card, that we can use over the phone, with a PIN number for use in shops, and if we use our card online we use the Verification number on the back of our card… One way forward is for all internet providers to provide their subscribers with such a verification number, where people have to enter these details and register who is going to use their internet.  That way the likes of Facebook, Twitter,  Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft et al will be able to check if people are genuine, or whether they are trying to register with a fake ID.   You can’t join Paypal without confirming who you really are.  So why should we be allowed to join social media without confirming who we are?

People are going to shout about their human rights, but your human rights do not include, you being allowed to create a fake persona to harass, intimidate and persecute another person.  I use my real name and identity on all accounts… I use the handle ‘BrenR1958’ but that is my name, the first letter of my surname and year of birth.  On my Photography blog, we use our real names.  Anything I have to say is said under my real name.

Yes there is an argument about being safe online and not using your real name… but if everyone was made to use their real identity then and only then will keyboard warriors, hiding behind a keyboard spilling out vitriolic comments, be eliminated. The police would and should be able to then contact the hosts of platforms, ask for details and be given the verification number issued by the ISP provider and be traced easily.

The internet is not local, it is not your local pub or garden fence where you can have a gossip.  What you tweet or post on Facebook can and is seen by strangers.  Rumours grow arms and legs and become facts and then people are harassed.  We would conduct our real lifes like this, so why should we be allowed to conduct our online personas in such a terrifying and horrific manner.  Laws on internet use should be international and every country that refuses to sign up to an international charter should be blocked from transmitting on the internet.

Something needs to be done, not tomorrow, next week or even after the next election, it needs to be done now. Before more deaths occur due to online harassment.  Our press does need to be restrained and a proper code of conduct enforced, and our Police need to be given the resources needed in order for them to tackle a problem that is growing daily…. online abuse.

Just like all those deaths that have occurred where children, mainly, have committed suicide due to online bullying, Brenda Leyland’s death is one death too many.  RIP Brenda… and my thoughts and prayers are with her family at this sad time.