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The Net Office: Wanted! Great train bloggers

It's a scandal that has attracted coverage across the tabloids, accompanied by the sort of angry editorialising that the British middle classes seem to enjoy with their kippers and cornflakes. The Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, released from prison on compassionate grounds in August as his health continued to deteriorate, has been spotted using a mobility scooter to pop down the shops with his son in London. The world is outraged.

Except that the world doesn't seem very outraged at all. The family of the train's driver, Jack Mills, who died from injuries sustained in the robbery, has long campaigned against Biggs's release, and is clearly angry at any evidence that he is enjoying life outside jail. And the leader of Aslef, the union for train drivers and operators, told the Mirror that the photo showed "Mr Biggs has confounded the medical profession as much as he has the British legal system". This may be true, but it doesn't compare with the worldwide anger and diplomatic damage that accompanied last month's release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

The Biggs photo may be a gift to tabloid editors, but the scandal seems hardly to have touched the blogosphere or the Twitterverse. There are no Facebook groups protesting Biggs's access to the streets of London, or YouTube mash-ups of him on his scooter.

Check on Twitter and all you'll find is the Sun promoting its own story among two or three retweets; there's not a single mention in the world of blogs. Even the febrile right-wing political bloggers, who usually seize on any evidence of Labour weakness, have nothing.

The papers' own websites are also relatively quiet on the matter. The comments posted on the Sun and Daily Mail sites describe him as "a conman to the end" for having the audacity not to die immediately on his release and offer snarky comments about his entitlement to Disability Living Allowance, but there are only a few on each, and the story doesn't make it on to any of the "most read" lists that all newspaper sites now feature.

Perhaps those who care about the fate of an octogenarian bank robber who is close to death spend little time online and so are unlikely to trouble Twitter Trends with their obsessive dislike of a man whose life was clearly blighted by the actions of his youth. Or perhaps the blogosphere has a better sense of modern news values than those charged with editing the tabloid newspapers in their years of decline.

Becky Hogge is a writer and technologist. She was formerly the technology director of award-winning current affairs website openDemocracy.net, and Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a grassroots digital civil liberties organisation.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter