David Cameron was taking a swipe at Facebook users today. The Prime Minister spoke for a lot of people when he spoke of his disgust that people had been expressing admiration for the wife beating, misogynist murderer Raoul Moat.
Moat had recently been released from prison after serving time for assaulting a child. His widely reported last, self-pitying words "I had no Dad" were uttered moments before he left his own children fatherless. This was no radical, anti-police, community champion but a reactionary thug whose violence was usually directed towards working class women and children.
I'm all for attempting to understand Moat's motives but some have bordered on sympathy, something I think we should strongly argue against. Empathising with a perpetrator of domestic violence without any but the most cursory nod towards the victims of that violence is to place the importance of Moat's feelings above those of his victims.
However, Cameron has asked Facebook to remove Moat fan pages where tens of thousands have signed up to say what a "legend" the killer was. Facebook, I think rightly, refused to take the page down - although their inconsistency on what they censor is frustrating. You can't ban these ideas, you need to argue against them.
The fact that large numbers of men and women are leaving supportive messages on the page speaks to something that many people never see spoken out loud, and it's an opportunity to look facts in the face. A few examples of posts left by women on the site include;
- love got the better of you moat, RIP x
- His head went, simple as that, anyway he had a fucked up childhood, his baby mom was messing with his brain while he was serving a sentence. them man up newcastle there heads are all fucked, beer drinking steriod taking dudes. Never the less rest in peace Raoul Moat I don't think you are a legend, but a man whos' heart is torn and whose integrity was no more, R.I.P.
- RIP, guess it all just got too much for you man :/
If you're ex-partner beats you or tries to kill you it is not because "love got the better" of him but because he's a violent misogynist. By turning Moat into the central figure of an exciting man-hunt media circus the press inevitably gave him a more glamorous appearance than he deserved.
But back to Facebook for a moment - the reason it works is by harnessing the enthusiasms of the general public. Cameron is opposed to that when they express ideas he doesn't like, but this comes just a week after Cameron hoped to harness the site for his cuts agenda.
Here he is speaking to the owner of Facebook about winning the hearts and minds of the public for cutting public spending by using social networking.
The fact is you can't have it both ways. If you want to use social networking you have to understand that it works because it is unfettered, and if you start banning groups because you think they're distasteful - guess what - some people might find laying off public sector workers a downright disgrace.
For me I've no particular time for those criticising the police on this occasion. While there may be lessons to learned it is the extraordinary behaviour of the media that needs to be under the spotlight. Hyping up a sad little man into a hero while cavalierly putting his life, the lives of the public and the police in danger is beyond excuses.
See also Obsolete, Organized Rage, Green Reading, Doc Richard, The F Word, Richard Osley, Martin.