I have no doubt that when Operation Grange finally comes to end, there will be a Public Inquiry, and among the questions asked will be, did the McCanns’ media campaigns pervert the course of justice and if so to what extent? This will be followed by a huge outcry and demands that the Government do something about it - ie. Police the internet.
Hopefully, the logical, the reasonable, the sane and the huge Freedom of Speech lobby rally to oppose the irrational demands of the over sensitive. As my regular readers know, I am vehemently opposed to banning anything, I still have enough belief in the goodness of human nature, to know that nasty, spiteful trolls and anti social individuals are usually defeated by peer pressure. They are desperate for an audience, why give it to them?
Ban is my least favourite word in the dictionary, a close second to gusset and gobsmacked. In fact I would ban the word ban. I was watching Question Time last night and the discussion turned to banning Donald Trump. Bizarrely, I was with the lady in the sparkly jacket, let him come, giving us just enough notice to let a few eggs and tomatoes go off. As a Marxist and a Republican, I've never been particularly fond of the Royal family. Fascinated, but not fond. However, I think we Brits have got something in our genetic nature whereby at the age 60 we go all gooey over Royal weddings and babies! I hate myself for this, and will later go burn my dungerees and bovver boots (also a feminist), but I love Meghan Markle! OK, I love Harry, Wills and Kate too, and I shed a tear when I think how proud their mum would be.
Even the old Queen who I have oft called a miserable old bat over the years, gives me a teeny glow of pride. If a face can speak a thousand words, I am pretty sure hers will have much to say to the Donald. Or maybe just two words, one beginning with 'F' followed by 'orf'. The Windsors have more class, more style, more charm and more diamonds than the Hillbillies in the Whitehouse could ever imagine. Kate and Meghan are naturally stylish, Melania and Ivanka are styled by a 71 year old man fixated on beauty queens. They dress as an accessory for his elbow, not themselves.
Mieow, and while I'm at it, it pleases me immensely that Barack and Michelle Obama will be welcome guests of the bride and groom. Everything Trump and his ghastly family ever dreamed of, riding down The Mall in a gold carriage, goes again to the man he envies the most. Ok, maybe not literally the gold carriage (sulky smiley), but an elite club from which he will forever be excluded.
But back to the original question. The internet is still relatively new. That is, many of us remember manual typewriters, and some, ink and a quill. I jest, sorry. We are not yet fully aware of the extent of it's powers. The Madeleine story captured the zeitgeist, we were all finding new and exciting ways in which to use the wonders of the world wide web. For the first time, a missing child could be publicised worldwide within hours of disappearing. Someone had discovered a 'good' use of the internet, a use that was morally sound. Searching for a missing child united us - globally.
It's a bit like Winston Churchill's 'Never have so many owed so much to so few.....'. He had used it several times before, but it never had the resonance it had when he applied it to the brave pilots who defended the British coastline. It's like a 'perfect storm', a culmination, when all elements come together at the same time. The birth of the internet, Spin as an acknowledged profession, a government seeking a way in which to access the public's private internet activity, etc, etc.
Unfortunately for the McCann family and all their advisors, they could no more see into the future than the rest of us. The monster that filled their coffers and elevated them to icon status, then went on to devour them. They foolishly believed they could keep the monster on a leash. There is an almost childlike naivety in Gerry and Kate, an old fashioned belief in the values of England in the 1960s'. They have spent all their money on a quest to get a Court to rule them innocent, as if a Court Order would be treated with any respect on a lawless internet. (And let me be clear here, I love the lawlessness!). Those days when we all tipped our hats to Judges, policemen and doctors are a thing of the past. We are no longer told what to think, we can think for ourselves.
The answer to the title question is of course yes. But there is no legislative answer. As a curious onlooker of the McCanns' campaigns, I would never make any demands for them to be banned. That's one of the best things about Freedom of Speech, if someone says horrid things about you, you are free to challenge them and put forward your own argument. It's a level playing field. The best answer wins.
I'm afraid I have little, OK, no sympathy for those who claim the internet destroys lives. Of course, I have spent my entire life being the outsider, the non team player, so I'm used to people talking about me and whispering in corners. If they're not, I feel the need to up the ante. Can we focus on ME please, lol.
I have always found high profile libel actions hilarious, they always end up exposing things the claimants don't want exposed, and they never end well. Those who would never have given a second thought to whether you were guilty or not, now believe you are.
Claiming you have been affronted, is all about ego. The way in which you perceive yourself without first reading the words of Rabbie Burns. Nobody outside of your head gives two hoots that you were called a bitch online, in the Sun, or wherever. Most of us think about ourselves 99% of the time, but libel claimants go the full 100%. Because their obsession is themselves, they are very easy to manipulate with smarmy lawyers queuing up on the doorstep. Pistols at dawn wasn't nearly so lucrative.
Those perpetuating the idea that internet trolls are one of the greatest threats to society, are in fact inviting the public to demand the government take control of the greatest source of information the world has ever seen. They are consciously or subconsciously, telling us we need 1984 authoritarian protection. In a nutshell, they want us to fear our laptops.
In this big bad world, internet trolls are the least of our fears. OK, they say nasty things, they even make threats, and write movie scripts for Saw, but the reality is, said creep is probably some bitter, socially inept loner, hiding in his/her room 500 miles away. Ergo. Not likely to climb in your bedroom window, should you decide not to sleep in a panic room. They have NO contact with their victims, that's the whole point. They can persecute people from afar without fear of being caught.The chances of them wallpapering their front rooms with your picture and lurking outside your front door are miniscule, especially if they are stalking you from Kurdistan for example.
Governments have every good reason to keep the population living in fear, it's a bit like the old protection racket. They create the fear and then offer to protect us from it. Media campaigns, whatever we think of them, should not be banned. And as loathsome as some of the Madeleine forums are, even they should have their freedoms protected. We all have the free will to read and write whatever we want. Even the dull and the ignorant.
I am a great believer in the Law of Attraction. If you put out negative energy, that's what you get back. Forums like CMoMM drove all the reasonable and rational people away with their appalling manners and hostile attitude. I doubt there are more than half a dozen remaining. No ban was necessary, they destroyed themselves.
The Madeleine campaign was probably the first active media campaign run by the family of a missing child, but it hasn't been done to the same extent since. Not least because the printing of t-shirts and the holding of candlelight vigils now sets off alarm bells. The Campaign helped I think by creating the idea that the public overwhelmingly supported the parents of Missing Madeleine, even if they didn't. Those media monitors in Whitehall etc, then see the 'stats', million likes on facebook, and put the government's support behind the popular cause. That's why it has always been integral to Gerry and Kate to convince interviewers that the public are fully behind them. 'Opinion is roughly 50/50 Kate', said the Irish host, 'no, no, she replied, it's only a tiny handful, I don't know anyone like that, do you?'.
Much of this case, as newcomers will have discovered, is full of myths, smoke and mirrors. Gerry and Kate worked hard to present themselves as the faces of a hidden, giant army of helpers and supporters. In the early days I seriously imagined a packed sweatshop with trolls working their fingers to the bone fending off McCann critics. I now think it is just a very prolific handful.
The McCanns made a huge success out of what they did. I know success doesn't seem like the right word, but they achieved everything they set out to do. Madeleine became the most famous missing child in the world, and they presented as two erudite professionals to whom something terrible had happened.
The internet can and will, always sway public opinion, just as newspapers have in the past, but at this point in history, we now have hundreds of news sources to choose from. The Madeleine story wasn't confined by borders. The British media were promoting the abduction story, but the Portuguese were reporting something else. And anyone taking 10 seconds to google, quickly stumbled on the news not being reported in the UK. Not only could the McCanns not control the news coming out of Portugal, nor could the mainstream media.