Facebook rebuffs British Prime Minister, won't remove Raoul Moat page

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The British Prime Minister David Cameron and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg look like they could be about to fall out already. Just days after that cosy, if a little awkward, video chat, it seems that this particular marriage of convenience may be over.

Yesterday, when answering a question in Parliament regarding whether or not Cameron should ask Zuckerberg to remove a Facebook page housing opinions offering support and sympathy for murderer Raoul Moat, Cameron replied:

“As far as I can see, it is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer-full stop, end of story-and I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims, and for the havoc he wreaked in that community; there should be no sympathy for him.”

The Prime Minister’s press officer later reportedly followed up by suggesting that the UK government would in fact ask Facebook to remove the ‘offending’ page.

Whether or not this has actually happened isn’t clear but it was enough for a nervous Facebook to issue an official response, perhaps fearful that the story was about to get legs. Here’s the full statement:

Raoul Moat has dominated public debate over the last week and it is clear that there are lots of different and opposing opinions, both about Moat himself and about the investigation which surrounds him. These debates are being held in newspapers, online across the Internet, between people in the pub, on the phone and at work.

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. 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.

Further, and in contrast to the pub or the phone, Facebook offers tools for people to report material easily, so that we can quickly review and remove from the service anything that is against our terms.

So, in other words, as long as discussions on Facebook don’t break the law or any of the social network’s own terms, such as those around privacy and explicit material, presumably, then anything goes. That’s pretty much what I’d expect.

However, 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.

Update: The page in question: “RIP Raoul Moat you Legend” has been removed, not by Facebook but by the user who created it, in line with the social network’s user controls that allow the originator of content to remove it at any time.

  • http://www.arteki.com Gaby

    I have to agree with Facebook (*shudder*).

    Regardless of what the man did, we live in a free country and have the right to express our opinions in such a way. The fact the government would try to stop people expressing their opinion in a place which is really doing people no harm makes me more than a little concerned about what they view free-speech to be.

    Then again, they’ve been trying to remove our freedoms little by little for a while.

    • leisah

      This is how a political man reacts: All superficial, but his real intentions will always be concealed, for the press. He and Zuckerberg can have the best cam-conversation of the day, but the moment Cameron signs-off. His ulterior motives would sprout.

      I just hope, facebook’s new panic button would be a success.

    • http://hauntingthuder.demon.co.uk Neuro

      well the really nasty thing was the frothing tone of the tabloids (with the broadsheets not being that much better) and the disgusting headlines when it was all over. “Got Him” or variants where all over the red tops. It also it deflects from the less than stellar performance of the police who seem to enjoy their Walter Mitty fantasies – the snipers in full on battle dress was a bit over the top.

      But as Andy Coulson is an ex tabloid hack FB is a useful idiot to deflect attention away from the tabloids eh!

  • Philip

    Moat is the lowest of the low. But I believe in free speech, and if there is some twisted individual out there who wants to express sympathy towards him, then so be it, I don’t want a Prime Minister who thinks he has the right to censor that.

    Just out of interest, does Facebook allow Fan Pages for Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and other public enemies? I hope they do, if they don’t then we have a massive case of hypocrisy.

  • Peg

    It’s a sad day when a company that has a disregard for privacy stands up for freedom of speech more than the Government. But then, I never liked the Tories.

  • anna rees

    I think you will find that the page has now been removed from Facebook

  • Oflife

    Sorry, Cameron is spot on. Here in the UK (I have been monitoring this for 10 years after arriving back here to my horror from the US), the country has, thanks to misdirected priorities by the previous government, sunk so low, that celebrity (no matter how achieved), narcism and bling are the new cool, whilst actual high achievers (one of whom was recently mentioned on TC after another journalist gave him a hard time) are ignored or forced to emigrate out of disgust.

    Street level crime is so widespread here (attacks on the elderly or vulnerable by young people occur constantly – as anyone can research) that it’s become part of the culture – and don’t let any propaganda let anyone believe otherwise. (Today, it was reported crime was down at it’s lowest since 1997. Don’t believe it.)

    To be frank, if Facebook or any other medium consider what they are allowing as freedom of speech, then what is to stop just about anyone dissing an innocent (with no evidence) or supporting a (convicted) criminal or dictator with the result that their ‘fanbase’ grows so large that one or more innocent individuals lives are put at risk as people realise there is more to gain from crime than good old fashioned hard work? It has happened before!

    Anyway, I’m busy earning a living, so may not reply to any flames for a few days or so.

    I’ll leave this one for you, it is something that stuck in my mind since times in the US, where I believe the Marines had a slogan. It was…

    “Be the best you can be.”

    Well, here in the UK, under our former dystopian leadership whose ‘Dear leader’ bred and fed our underclass, I think one could modify that to read…

    “Be the worst you can be.”

    • Peg

      Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

      • Oflife

        It’s not liberty. Liberty is protected by the proper media. And the media consists of journalistis who are trained to research and make a sound judgement. Don’t let blogs (even mine) or forums or social networking groups confuse. You cannot put the lunatics in charge of the asylum. And sadly, too many young people are running organisations prior to being grounded with ethics and common sense. If you want my opinion, the law needs to be modified to clarify all this anyway before it gets out of control.

      • Peg

        It sounds like you think liberty is being told what to think by the media. =/

    • Gordon Brown

      Obviously you’re not busy earning a living because it seems you stuck around to post more comments.

      Hmm… Insecure, liar, not earning a living AND ‘dissing’ the previous government. Prime Minister Cameron, is that you?

  • http://casualgenius.com Alex Stansfield

    What a non story.

    As far as we know the PM didn’t ask Facebook to take down a page that Facebook aren’t going to take down.

    • chris

      actually facebook have taken down the page

      • Steve O'Hear

        See the update to the post.

  • http://Www.idea11.com.au Dan Halford

    But Facebook will happily help governments in muslim countries block their citizens from accessing the Everybody Draw Mohammad day page.

    Interesting.

    • Oflife

      Because they rule by fear or by slipping some money into the pockets of ‘Champaign Socialists’ who sadly run far too many organisations and businesses. Nasty world.

  • Dan Riley

    Suppressing freedom of speech is a waste of time and energy and serves no good. This is an issue to be addressed, not deleted.

    If people realised that the general populous (and even the majority of the minorities) are far from stupid and focussed on the cause of the issues that have turned them to the negative views in the first place then the PM and rest of the supporters would be lambasted for their current efforts – and rightly so.

    Efforts should be put into … See morecommunity support groups, education and debate between local people and the forces, and more done to address each and every concern these people have using logic and evidence based solutions until they understand that everything is based on theory and process and is (in general) there for the greater good.

    The shocking thing is that this should be done accross the board with a huge amount of issues, but no. Everything is reduced to the lowest common denomonator and time, money and effort is wasted through rediculous PR stunts that serve to make no impact to the original problem or play any part in a solution.

  • Robin

    This isn’t a non-story, it has a very major impact. In most free speech countries the barriers of taste and acceptability can be monitored and challenged by the free press on behalf of the public, and most press organisations are smaller the population of the country they serve.

    But Facebook has a user base larger than many countries and can’t be challenged effectivley, and that brings new challenges that no company has faced before.

    I don’t think that this issue (of “inappropiate fan pages”) has gone away.

  • igniman

    What about his husband-in-government Nick Clegg? He seems even more tube-savvy

  • TBone

    So the UK releases the lockerbie murderer to Libya and then has the balls to turn around and complain about the facebook page of a murderer? Wow. I think I speak for America when I say suck it long and suck it hard, David Cameron.

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  • http://www.izlekop.net facebook

    ooow As far as we know the PM didn’t ask Facebook to take down a page that Facebook thanks..

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  • Mark

    Why are so many people confused by freedom of speech issues. It is straight forward enough to me.

    Facebook is a private corporation and can censor (if that is the right word) any information it chooses. Are liberties and freedoms-of-speech as protected in our constitutions are not affected as this applies only to censorship of speech by governments.

    Also, Cameron as Prime Minister did not “order” Facebook to do anything (which would be government censorship), he simply *asked* Facebook to do the tasteful thing and remove the page, an request which has absolutely no legal or constitutional implications whatsoever, knowing full well that, as a private corporation (of another country, mind you!) Facebook is completely within its rights to ignore or comply. Therefore, any discussion about Cameron’s, and his government’s, commitment to freedom of speech is totally irrelevant in this case.

    What worries *me* are the people who thought this issue was a serious threat to personal liberty. are people entrusted with a vote, and who have perhaps some small or larger influence on how others people vote in elections; however, they display a serious lack of knowledge & analytical skills with regard to a basic political issue.

    I wish people would take the time to think things through more clearly and indulge in less of the biased, knee-jerk reactions that are sadly all too common in grassroot political debates these days.

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