Cameron's battle with Facebook over Moat page ends, but war continues
The Prime Minister's attempts to woo the social networking generation have taken a turn for the worse
Friday 16 July 2010
It had seemed to go so well. Downing Street was certainly delighted after David Cameron chatted by videolink to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the social networking site Facebook.
While some of Facebook's users might have found last week's encounter awkward and contrived, the Prime Minister's advisers believed it had been a powerful way of connecting him to modern youth.
But the link-up with the pioneering site turned sour this week after the Prime Minister joined protests over the controversial Facebook page set up in tribute to the killer Raoul Moat.
All the forced chumminess with Mr Zuckerberg was forgotten after Mr Cameron instructed officials to complain to Facebook about comments on the "RIP Raoul Moat you Legend" webpage, which had attracted more than 30,000 supporters and contained hundreds of vitriolic attacks on the police.
Facebook refused to back down in the face of Downing Street's intervention, although both sides sought to play down the row's significance.
There will have been private relief yesterday in No 10 – although it refused to comment publicly – when the page was suddenly taken down by its creator, Siobhan O'Dowd. She did make it clear, however, that it could soon be relaunched. She denied she had received death threats. Asked why she removed the page, Ms O'Dowd replied: "I don't know really. A few of us came to a decision, but it's going to be up again.
"We don't condone what he did, as what he did was wrong. I feel sorry for the families, but he was still a human being at the end of the day. He had problems and he didn't get any help."
Facebook made it clear that it had not taken down the heavily-criticised site and said it stood by its decision to leave the page online.
It explained that it only removed entries that breached strict guidelines on racism, bullying and inciting hatred against individuals, and would not delete comments simply because many people found them distasteful.
Last night another Facebook webpage, "RIP Raoul Moat!", had attracted more than 10,000 supporters, many of whom had posted abusive comments about the Prime Minister.
One read: "Raoul Moat was a good, decent, hard-working man who loved his family. He was the good guy. The police drove him mad and eventually made him commit these heinous crimes. RIP mate."
Moat, 37, who killed the partner of an ex-girlfriend, wounded her and blinded a police officer in one eye, shot himself last week in Rothbury, Northumberland, after a massive manhunt.
Northumberland Police arrested two men yesterday on suspicion of helping him. The men, aged 28 and 36, were arrested in Newcastle and released on police bail. Fifteen people have been arrested during the investigation.
Mr Cameron told MPs this week that he could not understand the sympathy being expressed online for Moat, whom he denounced as a "callous murderer". A senior official from the Prime Minister's office relayed the comments to Facebook shortly afterwards.
But in an apparent attempt yesterday to nip any row with Facebook in the bud, Downing Street insisted the call was not aimed at getting the site taken down. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We were not trying to instruct them to do anything. The purpose was to draw their attention to the Prime Minister's comments."
He added: "I don't think we're in favour of censorship."
Last week's Cameron-Zuckerberg conference was set up after the company agreed to provide a space to suggest savings in public spending. The page, which only has 44 supporters, provides links to the Treasury's "spending challenge" website for the public's ideas in cutting the national deficit.
The suggestions submitted range from the arcane to the bizarre. Calls to cut foreign aid, clamp down on immigration, pull out of the European Union and tackle Government red tape have received strong support.
Other more specific ideas include turning the 2012 London Olympic village into accommodation for MPs, ending winter fuel payments to expatriates who have retired to warmer climes and using lower-energy lightbulbs in public offices.
It started with a video chat...
David Cameron's up-and-down week with Facebook began last Friday when he joined founder Mark Zuckerberg for a video conference, above. This led to a link being created on Facebook to the Treasury website, where visitors were encouraged to suggest ways of reducing public spending. As you can see, some ideas were more sensible than others...
* Ban alcohol at the Houses of Parliament – "Closing all bars at Westminster would save the [taxpayers'] subsidy and probably ensure much better government."
* Abandon paper driving licences – "Doing without the paper part would surely save money on administration costs, especially in this technological age, when so much of our personal data is held on computer databases."
* Scrap council magazines – "Why are councils spending money on writing, publishing and distributing magazines publicising the 'brilliant' job they do?"
* Reduce checks on adults working with youngsters – "Although the safety of children must be paramount, the current CRB checks are a waste of money."
* Scale back foreign fact-finding trips by MPs – "With the installation of video conferencing in most UK missions overseas, in many cases such visits are not necessary and questions can be posed to missions and tours of facilities conducted via video link."
* Cancel the Luton/Dunstable busway – "Total waste of money. I have not yet met a local who has a good word for it."
* "Send them back" – "Our own people want work and with so many of our own born here people loosing [sic] work I see a revolution coming in time in the uk."
* Sell sex toys.
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