If you were listening to my weekend overnight show on LBC you'll have heard me taking calls from Raoul Moat "fans". Yep, that's plural, he has more than one.
Largely this has been seen as a story confined purely to the online world of Facebook pages and social media. The reality, in my opinion, is that the internet has merely allowed us to see aspects of human nature which have always been there. We are, as a single organism, looking childlike into a mirror for the first time. Spotting both the good and bad aspects of our own appearance.
The tendancy to hero worship agressive male figures without question is not new. That's not to say it has lost its power to shock when you come face to face with it. I still can't get over the fact we had women who called in to support this bloke and try to blame his girlfriend. Nor the idiocy of the woman who set up the Raoul Moat facebook page and with whom the tabloid newspapers are currently having a field day*.
At school I remember that always, after a fight, people would try to frame events in favour of the victor: "Oh yeah, but Stinky Steve** was asking for a kicking though wasn't he?". The victims "must have done something" to provoke the random violence they'd been on the recieving end of. An unprovoked attack from 'Dangerous Dave' would, when retold by his fellow pupils, become an act of redistributive justice. Dave would become a hero who "did the right thing".
I remember once being punched in the stomach by some goon and then a couple of girls running up and asking me what I'd said to 'Cruncher' to provoke him. I was still trying to get my breath back and wondering if the troll like bloke (who was a few years above me) was coming back or not. "Uh, I didn't say anything, I don't even know him," came my reply as they both agreed with each other that I must have looked at him funny. "He hates that," they cooed as they scurried off behind him.
All these opinion pieces in the papers arguing that mass media has encouraged Moat fans or that we've become less sympathetic as a society are missing the point. In this instance the net really is just a mirror which is being ever polished and improved by the march of technological progress. It's simply allowing us to see our own ugly natures more clearly than before. The picture it reveals may at first seem unfamilliar but it's just humanity without the usual grooming we subject it to prior to inspection. As we look we've got the option of either trying to get used to what we see or take drastic steps to change it.
*Story here about a woman who set up the facebook page calling him a legend. Another one here about T-shirts you can buy to pledge your support for 'Moaty'.
**If you went to school with me or not it's worth knowing these names are fictional. My school had more than its share of random violence and agressive characters but they all had equally silly nicknames.