The thousands of people who have signed up to a Raoul Moat fanclub on Facebook are clearly moronic on any level. But what exactly is David Cameron trying to achieve today by asking the website to take down the offending page?
The prime minister is sophisticated enough to know that the page is just one of tens of thousands on the internet – if not millions – which could be considered revolting, unpleasant, macabre or grim. Not everyone would approve of the site “I hate David Cameron“, (4,866 members) for example. That, like it or lump it, is the flipside of free speech in a democratic society. The tradition is that if you disagree with someone you argue and dissuade rather than close them down.
There are also countless examples of the internet bringing people together for the greater good. Apparently there are about 30,000 “fans” of the Moat page. There are also about 30,000 fans of the Make Poverty History page on Facebook.
It’s hard not to conclude that the Facebook spat is a populist attempt by the PM to capture the public mood. In the old days the Lib Dems would have criticised him for proposing censorship; that obviously won’t happen now. Is Cameron trying to trap Labour into defending Facebook and – therefore – ending up on the wrong side of Littlejohn-type commentators?
When Derrick Bird went on the rampage and shot people dead in Cumbria the new prime minister showed remarkable restraint. His refusal to call for a “kneejerk” review of gun laws – which would have been the New Labour way – was impressive. This time he seems to have been ill-advised.
I tried to find old clippings of Cameron criticising the Chinese for heavily censoring Google to the extent that the search machine has considered pulling out of that country. I couldn’t find any. That, it seemed to me, was striking in itself.