Killer's Facebook Fan Page Roils U.K.

The aftermath of Raoul Moat's grisly, tragic spree

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It was a grisly shooting spree. Raoul Moat, a nightclub doorman, captured U.K. headlines after killing his ex-girlfriend's partner, injuring her, blinding a police officer and finally taking his own life.

After his death, his memory lived on in a Facebook page with 38,000 fans and dozens of comments enthusiastically praising the deceased killer. The page, titled "R.I.P. Raoul Moat You Legend," horrified many, including British Prime Minister David Cameron who condemned it and praised a lawmaker who insisted the Facebook page be removed.

"I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man," Cameron said. "It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer — full stop, end of story."

After his remarks, a U.K. official contacted the social networking site to voice Cameron's concerns. In response, Facebook issued this statement explaining why they would not remove the page:

Facebook is a place where people can express their views and discuss things in an open way as they can and do in many other places, and as such we sometimes find people discussing topics others may find distasteful. However that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening.

However, in a surprise move, the creator of the Facebook page has just deleted it, bowing to public pressure.

In sum, the affair shed some light on the prime minister's attitude towards censorship on the Internet. For some technology bloggers, he exhibited an eagerness to removing disturbing content from the web—a quality unbecoming for a self-styled Web-savvy leader:

  • Facebook Did the Right Thing, writes Kit Eaton at Fast Company: "Following basic journalistic principles, as well as the constitutionally-driven incentive for free speech, Facebook's arguments make sense: If it enabled discussion about the seemingly corrupt election results in Iran last year, it should also be able to host a discussion page about a figure that's all over the British news. This stance also highlights that social networking is a vital tool in our modern society, and it implies Facebook considers itself important enough to make a big decision on public controversies."
  • Cameron, You're Better Than This, writes Steve O'Hear at TechCrunch:
What I found slightly strange is how quickly and perhaps naively Cameron or his press office got drawn into a discussion around censoring the Internet. He’s the guy who has pitched himself an Internet-savvy alternative to his predecessor Gordon Brown who, according to Cameron, was an analogue Prime Minister living in a digital age.

And yet he doesn’t seem to understand how the culture of the Internet works in relation to free speech – whatever your views on Moat or any other topic – or at least that’s how it appears.

That seems like shaky ground to be on for the UK’s first so-called iPrime Minister.

  • Kind of Hypocritical of Cameron, writes Tom Watson at The Guardian:
Everyone has their own definition of freedom of expression and Facebook should defend theirs. And this week, of all weeks, the government and the prime minister should respect and understand Facebook's position. After all, this is the week that George Osborne launches the Spending Challenge website, a seemingly unmoderated blog that allows citizens to suggest how the axe should be swung in the public sector. "Don't build any more useless websites" was one of the most popular and sensible suggestions. Other brutally frank responses from the hive mind of the nation were that pregnant women on benefits should have to abort their foetuses and that unemployed youths are cannon fodder in Afghanistan. My understanding is the prime minister had neither condemned the chancellor nor demanded he take the pages down. The last time I checked, the offending comments were still on the site, where there is also now a call for a Raoul Moat memorial day.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.