Facebook has announced it is shutting down a page that triggered fears for the lives of police officers in Northern Ireland.
Crown Forces Watch had called for people to post pictures of officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and details of security operations. The chairman of the Police Federation in Northern Ireland, Terry Spence, said publishing pictures was an attempt to “target police officers for murder”.
The Facebook page closed on Thursday morning with the administrator saying “this group was to report harassment only, not to endanger life as has been reported.”
Dissident republicans had been using Facebook to help identify and share information about police officers in Northern Ireland, triggering fears for their safety.
Republicans living in the dissident areas of Tyrone and Derry posted images and personal details of officers serving in the PSNI, claiming that the pictures showed officers “harassing republicans”.
The page encouraged others to post more images and information about police operations.
The PSNI said it was aware of the page and was looking into whether it compromised the personal security of officers.
During the Troubles broadcasters voluntarily kept the faces of officers out of television news reports. Those on the beat were filmed from behind, or at angles obscuring their face, in order to stop terror groups identify possible targets for murder.
Senior officers in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the PSNI’s predecessor) did often appear in front of cameras, but the de facto ban on facial pictures continued right up to the 1994 IRA ceasefire, when the situation relaxed. However, since the surge in dissident terror activity over the last two years the voluntary censorship has returned.
Social networking sites have been used by dissident republicans in the propaganda war. YouTube came under fire two years ago after it emerged that the Real IRA and Continuity IRA were posting videos praising their violent campaigns.
Individuals unconnected to terror groups but who hold extreme opinions have found themselves in Northern Irish courts for misuse of websites. Last week a Derry man was fined after making threatening remarks on Facebook directed at East Derry Democratic Unionist MP Gregory Campbell.