Thursday, 15 July 2010

First remove the Moat in your eye

There's a bit of a flap on about the dead murderer Raoul Moat's Facebook tribute page. An ugly section of society seems to view him as a folk hero for, variously, hating women, hating the police, and evading them for a whole week.

Naturally, the politicians are outraged by this, which seems fair enough to me, but they've responded in a way that demonstrates how little they actually understand about new media. David Cameron rightly condemned the wave of sympathy expressed for Moat (though it seems that he did in fact seek psychological help and was refused), but his minions are treating Facebook like some kind of official publication to be censored.

I listened to a Tory MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, on the Today programme this morning (listen here). He explicitly said that Facebook should close down the tribute page in the same way that the BBC would refuse to broadcast offensive material. The interviewer pointed out that the BBC is a public body with legal responsibility for the programmes it makes, which is a good start, but he didn't point out the central difference which makes new media legally and culturally interesting. Unlike the BBC, Facebook isn't a content generator. It doesn't make the sewage, it provides the pipes along which the sewage flows. Its main business is to analyse the material and sell it to advertisers. Telling Facebook to censor pages it hosts is like suing the phone company every time somebody swears during a conversation.

Furthermore, if you're likely to be offended by a particular Facebook page, don't go there. I don't watch soap operas because I don't like them - I don't watch them then complain about them. The MP's complaint was that his young daughters could view these pages. I found this a very curious argument for a Conservative, as their central political philosophy is private responsibility over state intervention. Rather than telling Facebook to censor its users' pages, how about engaging in some active parenting? Educate the children, and if necessary, block access to the unsuitable material.

Finally, I'd view the Moat tribute page as a public service. It's a record of the fact that a small number of people in this country hold some offensive and misguided views. Don't censor them and pretend they don't exist - argue with them, point out the error of their ways. Instead, these Tory Scum think like this:
Heaton-Harris said the page contained anti-police statements, which should be taken down. Cameron said he was making a "very good point".

Really? Have we got to the stage when holding an opinion - however dumb - you don't like justifies censorship? I think this is very sinister. I agree with the PM that many of the opinions aired are revolting - but I think it's very very wrong to silence people with whom we disagree (other than fans of Friends: they're beyond the Pale).

Damn. I hate defending corporations against governments. That's what happens when you get an evil government, I guess.


James Hannah said...

I was uncomfortable with the PM's condemnation, that Moat was a callous murderer, "full stop, end of story, and I cannot understand any wave of public sympathy, however small".

I understand the PM's got to express a clear opinion, but this point, expressed in this way, says to me "Some people are postmen, some people are train drivers, some people thieves, some people are murderers, that's just how it is".

It leaves no room for thieving postmen, murderous train-drivers or postmen who like to drive trains.

(Two days' worth of front-page pictures in the Daily Mirror of Moat in full cross-dressed mode, also made me think of it as a bad day for non-murdering cross-dressers.)

To my mind, here was a man who was reportedly a bad dad, a bad husband, sexually complex, a serial arrestee, and who'd served a single shortish stretch for assault.

Then he became a murderer, and double attempted murderer, which was, to quote Paul Gascoigne, "Not very nice".

This last fact does not, in my book, say "end of story".

Stick that in your Prime Minister and smoke it ;)

The Plashing Vole said...

Spot on. You're not made for this world, are you James. You seem to think that one day we might live in a place which takes mental illness seriously, rather than waiting for the mentally ill to commit a crime, then sends them to a prison to make them worse, roundly abuses them as though they exist in isolation rather than in a society, and encourages the media to turn them into monsters.

If that's your attitude, I suggest you move to Norway.

Seriously though - yes. Cameron was right to condemn the morons on Facebook, but entirely and predictably wrong to express his depressing and classically Conservative view that there's no such thing as society and that individuals are completely responsible for their actions.

I gather that some of the Moat commenters are pointing out that he begged for help because he knew he was psychologically damaged - that doesn't excuse his actions but it does make him more intelligent than David Cameron.