Facebook refuses to remove Raoul Moat page

Facebook has issued a statement today saying that it will not remove a sympathetic page on its site dedicated to Raoul Moat, which describes him as a “legend”, even though the UK government is reportedly seeking its removal.

The issue came into the spotlight when Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry asked David Cameron: “Will the Prime Minister consider having another conference call with Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, whose site is currently hosting the group ‘RIP Raoul Moat’,where a whole host of anti-police statements are posted? Can the Prime Minister have a conversation with Mark Zuckerberg about removing this group? 

Cameron avoided answering the question of contacting Facebook, but said that Heaton-Harris “makes a very good point.” He added: “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.”

These views are echoed by thousands of Facebook users, who have created several groups protesting against the sympathetic Facebook groups and asking for them to be removed. Even the pro-Moat groups are littered with angry diatribes by upset Facebook members.

None of this is making Facebook remove the offensive pages, however, primarily citing free speech as reasons for keeping them online. The statement issued today said:

“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.”

TechEye asked a Facebook spokesperson about the controversial pages. We asked if the UK government had contacted it and asked it to remove the page, and if the Tories were on the verge of introducing internet censorship over the affair, but the spokesperson refused to comment.

On investigation we discovered that the offending page had been removed. The spokesperson told us that “Facebook did not remove the ‘RIP Raoul Moat you Legend’ Page. Facebook will remove content that violates our terms when reported to us.” We were informed that “any content on Facebook can be removed by the user who created it,” suggesting that the creator of the page was the one who removed it.

We found that a replacement page is already in place entitled “R.I.P Raoul Moat You Legend – Page 2”, with the creator leaving a message saying “looks like the police and cameron got their way.. bye bye tories”. At the time of writing it only has six members. Another group, entitled “R.I.P Raoul Moat!” has nearly 10,000 members, continuing to incite outrage from many Facebook users. From today’s statement by Facebook, however, it seems highly unlikely that it will remove these groups.