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Brenda Leyland - @sweepyface - was not a troll and didn't deserve to die



Original Source: Female First Wednesday 08 October 2014

by Daniel Falconer | 8 October 2014


Brenda Leyland was not a troll. At least not in the original sense of the word. An online troll is - or was - somebody who used the internet to cause annoyance to other online users using whatever means possible. They didn't even have to believe in what they were saying. So long as they were getting a reaction, it's job done for the internet's most common beast.


Brenda Leyland was a woman who seemed to firmly stand behind exactly what she had to say online, using her internet persona '@sweepyface'. She wasn't putting out these 'hateful' tweets or messages because she wanted to annoy, but rather because she thought that a serious miscarriage of justice had taken place at the expense of a young child, and she wanted things to be put right. Whether she is correct in what she believed is another matter entirely.


Brenda Leyland / C: Facebook


I am not an expert and not one to comment on the Madeleine McCann story. I have my own opinions which I keep mainly to myself, but that doesn't mean one day I won't want to share those opinions with other people. If I go on to do that and they don't meet the standard that others expect, do I become a troll? The term has almost become useless.


Urban Dictionary - the online world's collection of internet terms and lingo has 'troll' listed as meaning the following: "One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument". In my view, this wasn't sweepyface's aim.  


Not once did Brenda put out a message containing physical threats of violence, nor did she laugh at the McCann's expense. Through thousands of tweets she didn't even do so much as swear more than 20 times. She even went so far as to defend the family against those who did find humour in their situation - "so much laughing so little funny". By poking the hornet's nest so often and for so long, she did eventually see a breakthrough, though it wasn't one she had wanted. When Sky News reporter Martin Brunt began following her on Twitter, she sent out her final tweets before deleting the account altogether.


Now don't get me wrong, Brenda did get tangled in a whole lot of mud-slinging that could have found her up to her neck in legal issues if and when things were going to be taken further. Cases such as this one always involve murky water and if you're willing to go and wade into it via the web, I believe you should be willing to talk about it in person. She was a responsible and grown adult who knew what she was doing. Of this there is no denying.


Her actions meant that Martin Brunt turned up at Brenda's doorstep and repeatedly asked questions she didn't want to answer at that moment. She was taken by surprise. Repeating that she was going out with a friend and replying "No" when asked if Martin could speak to her about her Twitter account, she was followed right up to her car and the questions continued to come until she got into the vehicle. She later invited the team inside and is reported to have explained her reasoning for the tweets off-camera, hoping that she hadn't broken the law.


It was the Daily Mail who took the chance on October 2 to "unmask" Brenda - using her full name - as one of many 'trolls' who hurl "vile" abuse at the McCann family. Though they do make sure they include sentences that show what she did and didn't tweet, they tend to tar her with the same brush they're using against anonymous users who have threatened and even posted sexually explicit messages online about the family. Not enough is done to distinguish between Brenda's messages and those of others. This was also the date that the Sky News footage was aired.


A torrent of abuse was then hurled at Brenda - death threats, calls for her to be raped and abused, from supporters of the McCann family who were unhappy with her viewpoint. Will Scotland Yard be investigating these tweets? They have so far mostly gone unreported, despite being on a much larger scale of evil intent than Brenda's ever were.


24 hours after the outing Gerry McCann made a call for examples to be made of internet 'trolls' who target the family, and he insisted police should up their game. Despite none of the McCann's being on social media or reading any of the comments, they were alerted to some of the abuse being posted online about their family. Three days later, on Saturday, October 4, Brenda Leyland was found dead in a hotel room in Leicestershire.


Back in November 2011, Gerry McCann had made a statement at the Leveson Inquiry insisting a system needed to be put into place to ensure normal people protection from media and the damage it can cause. At the Hacked Off conference last year, he stated the press took part in "an insatiable hunt for headlines combined with a total lack of respect for other people. The mentality that can turn a family's distress into cold, hard cash. Profit from misery." Now with the condemnation of Brenda Leyland being so intertwined with the McCann case, will he be making a statement about her treatment and what happened likely because of it?


Many are calling for a public inquiry into her death and the events that led up to it. Supporters have formed a Facebook group and believe that Brenda was unfairly singled out by the media and in publishing her face on such a mass scale as well as personal details, condemned her to her fate.


Ofcom have received a number of complaints over the way in which Sky News reported the story, but have not yet reached a view as to whether an investigation should take place.


In bringing all of this to the front of the media, groups that claim to want the truth about Maddie to be exposed on Facebook did initially see a small drop in members when the news first broke, but are now adding up to 200 extra people each day. These are people who hold some of or similar views to Brenda. The rise in members could be people also holding the same point of view, or simply members of Facebook who are intrigued. Either way, this exposť has done nothing but shine a stronger light on these sorts of groups - something the McCann family would never have wanted to happen.


A family is now without a member. Brenda's son has posted a short but sweet tribute through his own Twitter account, but anything further is yet to be said or done. A woman who had an opinion on one of the most talked about cases from the modern-generation has been penalised for speaking out in a public forum about those opinions. Something needs to change, and it needs to happen fast. There's always another Brenda case just around the corner. 

by Daniel Falconer for


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