Why Facebook was right to keep Raoul Moat fan page

The internet and Raoul Moat
The internet and Raoul Moat

Facebook went against the wishes of Prime Minister David Cameron this week by deciding to keep a fan page dedicated to killer Raoul Moat on the site.

This in itself was the right thing to do. Whatever your opinion of the situation, Facebook was completely within its rights to keep the page up unless its terms have been violated.

It's not as if Facebook was forcing its users to become a fan, like it hasn't been forcing people to become a fan of the Hitler Rocks!!! fan page either.

Of course, Cameron disagreed and in his Prime Minister's questions he spoke of his dismay of the online tributes, saying he "cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man".

In a statement the social-networking site explained its stance, noting: "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.

"We believe that enabling people to have these different opinions and debate about a topic can help bring together lots of different views for a healthy discussion."

Technology to blame

This Facebook fracas is the very tip of the Raoul Moat media iceberg. The stand-off between Moat and Northumbria police was a very public affair, with 24-hour news outlets Sky News and BBC News relaying live every little bit of detail about the case.

Debating the media attention the case got, Mark Lawson writing in the Guardian, noted that is was because of technology we are now getting rolling media coverage on events such as this.

"Has the equation between broadcasting technique and editorial importance gone wrong? Brutally judged, Moat was a local crime story that would once never have claimed national attention on this scale," he explains.

"The BBC and ITV were perhaps worried about losing viewers to Sky News, which was mad for Moat, but the suspicion remains that they covered the story like this because, technologically, they now can. Yes, but should they?"

Trending topics

The media frenzy is something which has spilled over on to the web, with Raoul Moat becoming a trending topic on Twitter on numerous occasions and sites like YouTube awash with videos regarding the killer.

In one particular YouTube post, late night radio host Ian Collins speaks to the creator of the Facebook fan page, who calls Moat "a legend for giving the police the run around".

He retorts by asking his audience: "is that the stupidest woman you have ever heard on this radio show".

The less said about the interview with Raoul Moat's 'friend' Paul Gasgoine the better.

Freedom of speech

It's not just Facebook who has 'problems' with Raul Moat fans. A quick search on MySpace shows that Moat has his own page on the site, something which was put up nearly a week after his death.

The right to say what you want is something the UK prides itself on, whether it's is ill-judged or not.

While the Facebook page that caused the controversy has now disappeared, it wasn't Facebook who took it down but its creator. As the site told TechRadar: "Facebook did not remove the 'RIP Raoul Moat you Legend' Page. Facebook will remove content that violates our terms when reported to us."

"Any content on Facebook can be removed by the user who created it. For example if you upload a photo, you have the right to remove that at any time."

And there are still many similar pages on the site.

The internet has always had a inherent lack of opinion when it comes to sensitive issues. The mere fact that there is a Raoul Moat meme generator doing the rounds shows that regardless of how despicable the acts are that someone does, the web will find a way to make it into entertainment.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, Shortlist.com at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.