Continued from page 1

Some accused the police of persecuting Moat. Others blamed his ex-girlfriend, whom he shot and seriously wounded.

The page was not entirely pro-Moat _ some posters condemn both the killer and his Facebook fans.

Aric Sigman, a psychologist who has studied the biological effects of social networking, said the online outpouring reflected a new and alarming phenomenon _ “recreational, virtual grief.”

He said sites like Facebook allow strangers to “hold hands virtually and amplify and consolidate their personal feelings, using this news item as a vehicle for their own emotional issues.”

“It is being used to amplify and elevate views which in the real world we would all feel are not constructive or healthy,” Sigman said.

Facebook defended the Moat tribute page, saying it could help provide a forum for debate.

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,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “However that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening.”

Facebook regularly removes content that violates its terms, including material that breaks the law, incites violence or is “hateful, threatening, or pornographic.”

In February, Facebook removed the profiles of 30 British prison inmates at the government’s request after several incidents in which prisoners reportedly used the site to organize crime or taunt others.

Heaton-Harris said some of the comments on the Moat fan page incited hatred.

“Some of them are inciteful, inciting people to go and do horrible things to the police and to women,” he told the BBC. “I think it’s the job of politicians to say, ‘Hold on a second, we have got some boundaries here.’”


Associated Press Writer David Stringer contributed to this report.