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Facebook resists political interference over Raoul Moat

by Scott Bicheno on 15 July 2010, 10:40

Tags: Facebook, UK Government

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Stick to the law please

There can't be anyone in the UK who isn't aware of the ‘manhunt' involving Northumbria police and the alleged murderer Raoul Moat. It's the sort of stuff newspapers live for, and it all culminated in him taking his own life, having been cornered by police.

The moral stance on Moat would appear to be pretty straightforward: he allegedly killed a man, seriously injured two other people, including a policeman - who is now blind - and terrorised a community for several days. No ambiguity here, you would think - a deranged homicidal maniac has been stopped. Good.

But the tributes left near Moat's house and a group started on social networking site Facebook imply otherwise. The group - R.I.P RAOUL MOAT YOU LEGEND! ♥ - seems to idolise Moat for sticking up for himself under severe provocation. Obviously this is an absurd perspective, implying that going in an indiscriminate killing spree is not just a reasonable, but admirable course of action.

Contemptible though that stance is, it's not against the law to voice an offensive opinion. If any comments incite the killing of police, that's another matter, but merely expressing sympathy towards a now-dead killer is just that. Inevitably, however, Facebook is facing calls to take down the page.

Even the PM - David Cameron - has got involved. Apparently sensing an easy populist win, Cameron condemned those people expressing sympathy for Moat and, in response to a request from MP Chris Heaton-Harris that the Facebook page should be taken down, said he'd made a good point.

We heard Heaton-Harris speaking on Radio 4 this morning and he really didn't put forward a very coherent case for censorship. Yes, these are very emotive topics and if there are legal ramifications about inciting violence against the police, they need to be pursued. But he conveniently undermined his own argument when he thanked those Facebook members who had posted on the site condemning the messages of sympathy.