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.

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