Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week, you are sure to have heard about the Raoul Moat vs the police story that has dominated the news.
As one of Britain’s biggest ever manhunts, the story was of course going get a lot of press time. When the situation came to a close on Saturday and Moat turned the gun on himself, what nobody expected was the subsequent public reaction.
What emerged was a Facebook fan page called “RIP Raoul Moat, You Legend”, which sent shock waves through the media, caused disgust from the public and finally being discussed by the PM in Parliament.
David Cameron speaking at the House of Commons on Wednesday said: “It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story. I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man.”
Unfortunately Mr Prime Minister, although this may be your opinion and that of the Daily Mail, it is not that of the 36,000 members who joined the group or indeed the opinion of Facebook.
A statement was released by Facebook saying: “We have 26-million people on Facebook in the UK, each of which has their own opinion, and they are entitled to express their views on Facebook as long as their comments do not violate our terms.”
However, according to the Conservative lawmaker Chris Heaton-Harris, it does violate their terms:
“We don’t want to set laws on Facebook at all, but we do want people who are hosting these sites and other pages to have some responsibility,” Heaton-Harris told BBC radio.
“What I would say to Facebook is that within its terms and conditions on this site, that its incitement goes against its terms and conditions.”
The reaction against the Facebook group has been fierce with a number of groups being set up asking for the page to be removed.
Today when searching for the group, it appears that it no longer exists. However there is a R.I.P Raoul Moat! group, which currently has 9,371 people who ‘like’ it.
The group says: R.I.P Raoul Moat! You were a loving father and an all round canny lad and No haters or you get removed from group. There is also a link to a website www.raoulmoat.com
What is interesting about the Wall of comments, is that probably more than half of them are against the group. And if you look at the other comments, a lot are idiotic such as “How can a ginger be a leg-end?”, others are from those who are expressing dissatisfaction at the police and the government. But a large number of them are saying that they understand what he did in the last week was wrong, but they feel sorry for him for one reason or another, including that he was let down by society, the mental health system, his family etc.
It’s not just the people leaving comments on the group who feel sympathy for him, in a Guardian blog Michael White admits to feeling ” have a twinge of sympathy for Raoul Moat the other day. Two, actually, though I didn’t post them on Facebook.”
He went on to say: “Clearly Moat was dangerous and had to be captured – one murder and two life-threatening attacks, one of which cost PC David Rathband his sight – but the scale and media-frenzied tone of the police hunt made me uncomfortable.
Then there was that 47-page letter he wrote, the one the newspapers printed at length. No father that he knew of, at odds with his mother, estranged from his kids and the girlfriend he had abused but decided was the one for him, it was a mess.”
The point that Michael White may be making is that it is OK to feel sympathy for Moat, but it is an entirely different matter to talk about it so openly.
This message appeared today from the admin of the group R.I.P Raoul Moat:
“A MESSAGE TO ALL HATERS AND ALL OTHERS WHO DO NOT LIKE THE IDEA OF THIS PAGE, INCLUDING THE GOVERNMENT. WE WILL NOT BE CLOSING THIS PAGE DOWN AS IT IS THE INTENTIONS OF THE ADMIN TO LET PEOPLE PAY THEIR RESPECTS. WE DO NOT CONDONE WHAT RAOUL DID ON THAT WEEK BUT YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER HE HAD A LIFE BEFORE THIS AND THAT IS WHY PEOPLE ARE PEACEFULLLY TRYING TO PAY THEIR RESPECTS…”
As Facebook themselves say, people should be able to express themselves, but realistically how far can this go? Would it be acceptable for a ‘Hitler – You Legend’ page? Clearly the crimes of Moat are not comparable to Hitler, but murder is murder and the glorification of it is surely unacceptable in our society?
Although the page now appears to have disappeared, the issue has divide the country, the story has become a vehicle for a variety of grievances felt by government and police haters and on the flip side a lever by those after tighter Facebook rules.
Where do you think Facebook should draw the line?
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