Sweepyface: a linguistic profile

This morning brought news of the suicide of a media-branded ‘troll’[1]. Brenda Leyland, the 63 year-old woman behind the @sweepyface Twitter account, a self-proclaimed “researcher” and “anti-McCann” advocate was found dead at a Marriott hotel on Saturday 4th October in Leicester. She was recently contacted by a reporter at Sky News regarding her Twitter activity which frequently suggested that the disappearance of Madeline ‘Maddie’ McCann in May 2007 was being covered up to the profit of her parents Kate and Gerry McCann.

Part of an online community of “antis” – people who challenge the McCann’s account of Maddie’s disappearance – Leyland frequently posted under the @sweepyface Twitter handle tagging her posts with #mccann. “Antis” distinguish themselves from “pros”, or “pro-mccann” advocates, who believe the McCann’s account of their daughter’s disappearance.

Here, we offer a brief and broad analysis of the content flowing to and from the @sweepyface Twitter account during the entirety of 2014, including the language use and online networks in which @sweepyface operated.

Please note that our analysis does not attempt to validate any claims made by any party with regard to the disappearance of Madeline McCann.

Who is sweepyface?

As presented on analysis of the @sweepyface Twitter account

  • Description: researcher
  • Location: London/Los Angeles

What was sweepyface talking about?

  • Number of tweets sent between Jan-Oct 2014: 2,136
  • Tweets by sweepyface which contained the ‘#mccann’ hashtag: 1,992 (93.26% of all tweets in 2014)
  • Frequency
    • We looked at the most frequent words used by @sweepyface in all the tweets sent during 2014. After cutting out frequent grammatical words (like to, the, is, of, and, etc.) which don’t typically reveal much about content, it was found that the most frequent things talked about were:
    • “K & G” – freq 222
      • K & G was used as shorthand to refer to Kate and Gerry McCann, Madeline McCann’s mother and father. They were one of the most frequent topics of interest
      • ‘Kate’ and ‘Gerry’ also appeared, but less frequently (60 times and 39 times, respectively) and were never referred to using their full names, Kate McCann/Gerry McCann
  • “shills”
    • ‘Shills’ was the most frequent lexical word used(unlike grammatical/functional words, lexical words have clear semantic meaning – they are word classes like nouns and verbs).
    • It was almost unique to sweepyface – it was characteristic of her particular way of framing “pros”
    • Shills was used as a catch all term to talk about:
      • Those who would express “pro-mccann” opinions – “pros” and “shills” appear to be interchangeable
      • those who would opposed the opinions of “antis”
    • used as an in-/out-group identifier
  • “police”
    • mostly used to question police practices as in the following Tweet from sweepyface:
      • “#mccann  Rarely a month goes by when our police force are not highlighted as having flawed investigations, PJ is no worse than any other”
    • Tweeted the police, as in the following examples:

Name

Date

Tweet

sweepyface

19/03/2014 15:32

@metpoliceuk  This is becoming farcical Why will you not consider McCanns as suspects, plenty of clues
sweepyface

08/08/2014 15:31

@gracey52marl @metpoliceuk  #mccann  Not me, I wd like to see Gerrie Nell, prosecute the Mcanns, he wd tear them to shreds

Who did sweepyface affiliate with and what did they say?

Examined only the top 10 accounts with whom @sweepyface had most interaction with. These accounts were:

Rank Account name # of interactions Group
1 PORTUGALONLINE 478 anti
2 TrulyJudy73 456 pro
3 martin_liz 445 anti
4 siamesey 417 anti
5 RothleyPillow 393 anti
6 AdirenM 323 anti
7 1matthewwright1 314 anti
8 ModNrodder 309 pro
9 B_balou 256 anti
10 basilandmanuel 250 pro

Sweepyface most frequently associated directly with others who were actively engaged in talk about the disappearance of Madeline McCann, whether as a “pro” or as an “anti”. Moreover, contact between these accounts was evident and many more accounts were frequently interacting with sweepyface on the same topic.

 [more to follow]


[1] We argue that ‘troll’ as used by the media is defined too broadly – it captures behaviours from low level insults to rape and death threats – and is thus harmful. We adhere instead to the definition of ‘troll’ given here: http://cass.lancs.ac.uk/?p=621