Facebook last night refused to take down a tribute page gunman Raoul Moat in a dispute over the extent to which social media website should take responsibility for the material they publish.
While print publications are subject to the Press Complaints Commission, and broadcasters come under Ofcom, sites like Facebook currently don’t come under a regulator.
Yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron said in the Commons: “It is absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story.
“I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims and the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.”
But last night Facebook refused to take down the webpage saying many people would find some of the topics discussed on the site “distasteful”, but adding “that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening”.
It 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.”
MP Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: “Facebook has done things after public pressure in the past.”
He said of comments on the Raoul Moat page: “Some of them are inciteful, inciting people to go and do horrible things to the police and to women.
“I think it’s the job of politicians to say, ‘Hold on a second, we have got some boundaries here’.
“We don’t want to set laws on Facebook at all, but we do want people who are hosting these sites and other pages to have some responsibility.
“What I would say to Facebook is that within its terms and conditions on this site, that its incitement goes against its terms and conditions.
“Facebook’s biggest demographic is in the 10 to 18-year-olds, so my two daughters can, through their Facebook, nip on to here and in no time at all see the most unbelievable comments.
“Facebook have always reacted to public opinion and I just wanted Facebook to know there was a huge amount of public anger.”