Wednesday, 10 June 2015
A GUIDE TO THE MCCANN FORUM WARS
The disappearance of Madeleine McCann coincided with the birth of social media and those who had been twitching on the sidelines wondering where the profit in the internet might lie, were thrown a golden goose loaded with golden eggs, as long as they were able to keep total control of the goose that is.
In the summer of 2007, the tabloids ruled, they gave the public the headlines and the news, and on the whole the public accepted what was written without question, because the papers are 'not allowed' to publish things that aren't true, right? We knew politicians lied to us, that was a given, but we somehow believed that the newspapers were on our side, the side of the people.
Despite its sleazy image, Fleet Street also had journalists with integrity, journalists who would publish and be damned, journalists who would dig their teeth into a story and go after the truth no matter what, their integrity wasn't for sale. Sadly, they are now few and far between. Its not entirely their fault, stories about Kim Kardashian sell more newspapers than stories about corruption. The public gets what the public wants.
When Madeleine McCann went missing, we saw for the first time, the internet used at full throttle, and it was being used for a good cause, it demonstrated how one tiny girl could unite the entire world through compassion and generosity. Momentarily, we all became as one, and it was a phenomenon. Everyone, the world over, wanted to help, but the only realistic way for most to assist was to donate cash. Kerching.
Not only did Team McCann launch the most successful media campaign ever seen, they simultaneously launched an under cover online campaign to stamp out any opposition to the 'official' abduction story, and their fructiferous goose. The anonymity of the internet allowed them to steer public opinion in favour of the McCanns without revealing their original source.
The anonymity of the internet allows people to behave in ways they would not dream of in their 'real' lives. They can express their dark, malevolent thoughts without anyone knowing who they are and if they are lucky they will find like minded folk and form a pack. Therein, the nastiness and pitchforking lies.
Anonymity can be used for good, in that it gives a voice to legions who might otherwise wish to keep their heads below the parapet. In the early days especially, commenting negatively about the McCanns made individuals targets of one of the most malicious social media campaigns ever seen. Facebook pages were scoured, backgrounds researched and a Blacklist compiled. For myself as a writer with a book coming out it was the kiss of death.
People had good reason to protect their online identities. Threats to make examples of 'haters' were prolific on every social media site, employers, neighbours, friends and relatives would all be informed of your antisocial behaviour online. It was a precursor to the example made of Brenda Leyland.
The use of anonymity online is a debate I won't go into here, suffice to say that anonymity allows people to behave in ways that are not constrained by normal social boundaries. They can create false personas in whatever form they wish and present themselves as characters beyond reproach or wannabe gladiators entering an arena.
Whilst providing us with information beyond our wildest dreams, the internet is also filled with deception, or more accurately, fictional characters, that is people living out imaginary lives online. They are easy to spot, they don't 'do' Facebook or Twitter, lol, and they hang on to their anonymity as if their lives depended on it. However, 8 years on, the fear is now more imagined than real, I doubt there is a boss left in the land who cares one way or another what his/her employees think about the McCann case. For many, it may well be that they now regret their ill chosen words, others are simply hooked on taking bitching to the extreme and don't want to give it up.
So how did the forums begin? As the summer of 2007 went on, the power of the internet began to work against the McCanns. Whilst they could slap the tabloid newspapers with gargantuan lawsuits, they had no control over what was said online. For the first time in history, news could not be contained by borders. Anyone who cared to look beyond the UK headlines could quickly find details about the missing Madeleine case that were, for some reason, being withheld from the British public. The work of Joana Morais, Astro, Pamalam, Nigel Moore (McCann Files), Steel Magnolia (RIP) Teddy and others must never be underestimated, without their courage and integrity, the truth about this case would have remained buried.
I first became involved in the social media wars in the summer of 2007. I was extremely puzzled by the details of this case and went online to see exactly how far the Tapas bar was from Apartment 5A and stumbled across hundreds of other people, who, just like myself, were wondering what on earth was going on. As an AOL user I was pointed in the direction of the Europe Board chat room. The reception I received was comparable to that of a stranger walking into a hostile bar in the Wild West with the whisky flowing. It was every man for himself. I kinda liked it. (I'm better now)
In the early days, several of the tabloids allowed their readers to comment about the case on their forums - the most popular of which, was the Daily Mirror. However, as the hostility towards the McCanns increased, the forums were shut down. This led to the birth of the 3 Arguidoes, the most prominent anti forum, and probably the one that fed the myth that all those who doubted the abduction story were pitchforking haters.
As bloody as the Europe Board battlefield was, it was as nothing compared to the 3 As, for that you needed a full coat of armour and the Samaritans on speed dial. Even then, there was an air of tyranny, it was no place for the faint hearted, and humour was strictly prohibited. I have since discovered it was run by Tony Bennett and Bren Ryan, so there you go. The 3 As was doomed and Tony and Bren went their separate ways.
Tony set up a 'legitimate' forum via Jill Havern to run alongside the Madeleine Foundation. The Jill Havern forum, the Complete Mystery of Madeleine McCann (CMoMM) presents the evidence collected by its researchers for analysis and discussion. It is also a platform for Tony to receive the recognition he feels he deserves for solving the case (Murat dunnit). However, like the 3 As, CMoMM is a hostile, unwelcoming, environment, where newbies are treated with suspicion and derided for asking stupid questions. Question mein host and you are out the door. Their priority now is not solving the mystery of Madeleine McCann, so much as destroying the opposition.
Tony's Madeleine Foundation was the militant wing of CMoMM, committed to taking action against the McCann parents through frivolous law suits and intimidating them by distributing leaflets to all their neighbours. Yes, 'pros' that disgusted me as much as it did you. It served no purpose other than to harass the McCann family and in my opinion it was rightly labelled as despicable by the tabloids. People who truly want justice are not cruel and sadistic, and when that kind of behaviour comes in, you have to question the motives.
Bren, like Gerry, had an epiphany, she saw the 'light' apologised to Kate and Gerry for all her past misdeeds and became their most staunch supporter.
Bren founded, or became part of Stop the Myths/Exposing the Myths, the best known of the 'pro' sites and the compilers of the Hate List that led to the death of Brenda Leyland. The Kingdom was divided, and each took up their separate thrones.
For several years Tony Bennett has gone unchallenged as the 'leader' of the antis. He wears a suit. He was once a solicitor (?), he was once a social worker (?), he is a man of God, he is filled with brimstone and fire - no-one can doubt his passion and he is a proven academic (all that research). He has no time for frivolity (he doesn't watch TV) and he creationist, that is, he believes God made the world in 7 days and has given each of us our designated roles in this world. He takes misogyny to a whole new level.
At this point, most people would be thinking 'clearly bonkers', but we are so indoctrinated by society's codes and conventions that we automatically store a suit clad 'academic' in the 'respectable' cabinet in our brains. If he were covered in tattoos with a tunnel in his earlobe and facial piercings, we would have recoiled in fright, the suit had us all fooled. There is a moral in here somewhere.
As one of my more enlightened readers commented, there has never been an anti movement as such, because groups by their very nature attract wannabe despots and tyrants who want to rule the roost. I should mention at this point that leading is not something that has ever appealed to me, mostly because I am useless at it. Whenever I was put in charge of a group I would take them all down the pub and face a disciplinary the next day. Ergo, I have been able to watch from the sidelines in both amusement and horror. In more recent years, we have seen the emergence of the super large Facebook groups and the thesis, antithesis and synthesis begins again, only the leading characters change.
For those with a genuine interest in the facts and details, I can see how its all become so confusing. You just want to know 'did they, or didn't they?' And if you are a rational person, you will look at the case from every angle. There are thousands of pages of credible research available online, the McCann files are a goldmine and the videos of Hideho a treasure. From the 'pro' side there is very little to read, 1. Because the McCanns have remained resolutely silent and 2) because there are no reasonable or rational explanations for the parents' very odd behaviour.
This is an intriguing case and without wishing to trivialise the tragedy that lies at the heart of it, it is a real life mystery, one that appeals to our inner detective. A puzzle to stimulate and occupy our minds. For some a form of escapism. It was the butler in the drawing room with the candlestick. High profile crimes attract huge public interest, especially the interactive ones. The trial of OJ Simpson kept several nations gripped for several months with families falling out and threatening never to speak to each again. That we allow the lives of strangers to encroach our own personal space to that extent is bizarre in itself.
But again, I don't want to put people off joining the forums and groups. Once this case gets inside your head the need to understand/solve it becomes like an insatiable fever. I fully understand the need to discuss it, which is why I don't tell people to stay away from the forums. For many the need to put our theories to the test and bounce ideas backwards and forwards with others is overwhelming, and I hold my hand up right there. I actually encourage those new to the case to join the forums and facebook groups. Despite the way it may appear, there are lot of genuine, kind and decent people out there. People who want justice for the missing child, not vengeance on their perceived enemies.
The best advice I can give for anyone who wants to dip a toe, is read Goncalo Amaral's book and/or watch the documentary that accompanies it. As for the groups, join all of them, test them out, some are better than others, but it is all down to personal taste.
As for myself I am done with the bickering, I have way too much going on. I am happy to respond to and interact with anyone on here pro or anti if they are polite and rational. The personal abuse however, will simply go straight to spam.