If a convicted sex offender who'd given police the slip met a person in a pub, then went on to kill them, do you think he'd be labelled as a 'pub perv' or a 'pub killer'? I'm not so sure they would. I'd think there might be other elements to that story that could be considered more important than merely where he met his victim.
Not so when it comes to the case of Peter Chapman, the killer of Ashleigh Hall. The BBC call him the 'Facebook killer', while the tabloids (and Independent, oddly enough) queued up to reel in anguish over the medium by which Chapman had made contact with Hall:
Facebook fiend, Facebook perv, Facebook killer. I wonder whether the newspapers would have been as quick to point the finger at the medium if Chapman had met Hall through a newspaper classified ad? I'm guessing that it might have been slightly different. It chimes in with a particular narrative that appeals - the internet is a dangerous and scary place; technology is frightening; our children could be logging on and chatting to people who are going to kill them.
The Sun, among others, linked the mother of Ashleigh Hall with the mother of James Bulger, in that clumsy and unpleasant way in which they attempt to staple one story to another story in order to push their agenda - in this case, to demand 'justice' in the form of unmasking Jon Venables*.
I don't think there's a serious attempt to demonise the medium of social networking but these stories come across as cack-handed and naive. Of course predatory killers will use anything at their disposal to find victims; that's the nature of their extraordinarily rare nature.
There is possibly a lesson to be learned in terms of children being more aware of the dangers of the internet - though Ashleigh Hall was 17 and had probably been exposed to all kinds of risk in the 'real world' as well as online - but this man is not a Facebook perv, or Facebook killer, or Facebook fiend. He is a predator and a killer, and used another person's trusting nature to deceive them and trick them. This is an awful and rare crime, but linking it to social networking doesn't do anyone any favours.
* James Bulger's mother seems distressed and upset by being once again at the centre of media attention and not just by the knowledge of Jon Venables's recall to jail - not that the media in question would ever blame themselves for her distress.