Trolls, Twitter and another social media tragedy

Tragedy multiplies upon tragedy over the McCann saga. Paradox multiplies upon paradox as it was the traditional media that acted as the unintentional catalyst to the death of a woman who abused Twitter. The online revolution continues to perplex

Yet more pain now surrounds the McCann saga
Steven George-Hilley
On 6 October 2014 15:06

The suspected suicide of Brenda Leyland, 63, just days after being chased down the street by television cameras after being identified as the woman who posted offensive tweets about Madeleine McCann’s parents is yet another example of the savagery surrounding social media, and a powerful lesson to its traditional, mainstream rival.

Whilst I do not condone the comments allegedly made through her @sweepyface Twitter handle, few could now disagree that this case should have been handled professionally by the police, and not by the press.

In recent years, the rise in social media uptake has brought with it some increasingly uncomfortable side effects in the sometimes unpleasant, unregulated online world. For many, the ability to send instant public messages, attracting attention and engagement from millions of others users around the world creates feelings of invincibility which in turn leads the user to say and do things that would be socially unacceptable in the real world.

It would be fair to say that under the guise of an online profile, the individual can adopt a different personality altogether, saying and doing things that they would never contemplate in the real world.

There have been numerous examples of the over the last week of this strange online behaviour, from ministers sending intimate photos in paisley pyjamas to online abuse messages directed at Kate and Gerry McCann from hundreds of users. Has the world gone mad?

No, it hasn’t, but there is much evidence to suggest that those using social media often find themselves shifting from their normal behaviour when protected through the assumed anonymity of the internet.

As the old phrase used to go, “Yesterday's news is tomorow's fish and chip paper,” but the online world has exploded this myth. Yesterday’s news will now be logged in the search engine cache for at least five years and reaction to an incident will be met with online rage from an army of angry twitter users.

This brave new world can turn a person on the street into an international celebrity in no time at all, often exposing an individual with no media experience to intensive scrutiny, for which they are not mentally prepared. This is knowledge which broadcasters and journalists alike should consider before launching a sting operation on the unexpected individual, especially after the tragic Jacintha Saldanha case.

It was with some irony that Ms. Leyland’s son Ben took to social media to say "I love you, mum. I will miss you forever." With this in mind, those in the social and traditional media should stop and think a bit more about the hurt they are inflicting and the consequences of it.

Social media has the ability to make the world a better place, but until we all start using it for the right reasons, it will occasionally remain a cause of tragedy and shame for us all.

Steven George-Hilley is a director at the Parliament Street think tank and a Conservative Party activist. He is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator and tweets @StevenGeorgia

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