In chatrooms and message boards, Madeleine hysteria grips the world

If you logged on to your computer yesterday, you may have received an email that looked, at first, like spam. Forwarded many times and with crazy punctuation, it may have carried a preliminary message along the lines of “please help us!!!!!!!”, before scrolling down to the original email: a sober address from Phil McCann, uncle of Madeleine, the missing four-year-old, asking for your assistance.

In these days of mass media sophistication, no one needs it explaining to them that where a child who gets kidnapped is news, a pretty child who gets kidnapped is headline news and a pretty child who gets kidnapped and whose parents save lives for a living and go to church is rolling news. Even so, in the days since she disappeared, the Madeleine campaign has, for scale of involvement, outdone anything we’ve seen before. There are 90 different Madeleine-related groups on Facebook alone, circulating her photo to user communities of between six and 76,000 members. The official website has registered 60m hits and posters of her have been seen in campsites as far away as Bulgaria, translated into local languages via appeals put out by bloggers. At least four premiership football stars have made TV appeals and there is reward money on offer totalling some £2.5m.,,2083248,00.html

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