On Facebook, Sicilian Mafia Is a Hot Topic Jan 21, 2009 11:08:21 GMT -5
Post by Bozur on Jan 21, 2009 11:08:21 GMT -5
On Facebook, Sicilian Mafia Is a Hot Topic
nytimes.com — Your college roommate is on Facebook. So are your cousins and colleagues and friends. But guess who else may find Facebook a great way to stay in touch? Some people in Sicily who know a few things about networking. Authorities are investigating groups devoted to Mafiosi. More… (Tech Industry News)
On Facebook, Sicilian Mafia Is a Hot Topic
By RACHEL DONADIO
Published: January 19, 2009
ROME — Your college roommate is on Facebook. So are your cousins and colleagues and friends. But guess who else may find Facebook a great way to stay in touch?
Some people in Sicily who know a few things about networking.
In recent weeks, the Italian authorities have begun investigating Facebook discussion groups devoted to convicted Mafiosi, concerned that some members might be more than fans.
At the same time, a campaign calling on Facebook to remove pro-Mafia pages has been gaining momentum, while thousands of Facebook members have joined new anti-Mafia groups.
The debate spilled over from civil society to online society after recent news reports revealed that more than 2,000 people had joined Facebook interest groups hailing Salvatore Riina, the so-called boss of bosses, known as Totò, who was arrested in 1993 after more than two decades on the run; and his successor, Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006 after four decades in hiding. Both are serving multiple life sentences.
Such groups “are like sites that laud Hitler or Nazism,” said Rita Borsellino, whose brother, the magistrate Paolo Borsellino, spent his life investigating the Cosa Nostra before he was killed in 1992 in a car bombing that Mr. Riina was later convicted of ordering.
Ms. Borsellino said she thought Facebook was “damaged” by sites that glorified the Mafia. “These are people who are accused of serious crimes and are in prison,” she added.
Facebook’s member-generated groups encourage the free exchange of comments on a set theme. After receiving press attention, some groups disappeared, including “Totò Riina, the Real Boss of Bosses,” whose members wished Mr. Riina a merry Christmas and expressed their availability to work for him. Another group had called for the “immediate beatification” of Mr. Provenzano.
Others groups are closed to general membership, including “Fans of Totò Riina, a Misunderstood Man,” which declares itself “against false moralists.”
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, no convicted Mafiosi have their own Facebook pages, though it is tempting to imagine the status updates: “Totò Riina is looking to buy a judge.” “Bernardo Provenzano wishes he didn’t have to serve so many life sentences.”
But the Italian authorities are not laughing. At the behest of anti-Mafia magistrates in Palermo, they have contacted Facebook — which confirmed that it was working with the Italian officials who had opened an investigation.
“We’re taking it seriously without blowing it out of proportion,” said Maurizio De Lucia, a magistrate at the anti-Mafia prosecutor’s office in Palermo.
Mr. De Lucia said prosecutors were trying to determine whether members of pro-Mafia online groups were mostly “some kids who want to have fun” or gangsters looking for new ways to send coded messages to one another.
So far, the authorities said they had not found evidence of any criminal activity on the sites.
Last week, a member of Parliament’s anti-Mafia commission, Senator Gianpiero D’Alia, called for a government investigation and urged his colleagues to remove their Facebook pages until the site took down pro-Mafia groups.
“We can’t accept in virtual reality what we don’t accept in real reality,” Mr. D’Alia said in a telephone interview.
The motion was largely symbolic. By all accounts, the long arm of Italian law does not reach as far as Facebook’s servers in Palo Alto, Calif., and praising the Mafia is protected by free speech laws in both countries.
A spokesman for Facebook, who declined to be identified for an article on the Mafia, said the company “may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws,” but added that the company did not reveal information “until we have a good-faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards.”
The Italian authorities say one of their biggest concerns — beyond that the network could facilitate crime — is that the Mafia could use sites like Facebook to build a tacit acceptance among otherwise law-abiding citizens that it relies on to function.
“This is more worrisome,” said Col. Iacopo Mannucci of the Carabinieri in Palermo, which last month arrested nearly 100 people charged with trying to reconstitute the Mafia’s leadership council for the first time since Mr. Riina’s arrest in 1993.
Many say Facebook, which has 150 million members worldwide, is a healthy tool to foster debate. Indeed, others are using Facebook to mobilize resistance against the Mafia. An Italian group called “Mafia Off Facebook” has 166,000 members and held a one-day Facebook blackout on Wednesday, when members did not log on to the site to protest the presence of pro-Mafia groups.
Another group, whose name politely translates as “Yes to Breasts, No to Totò Riina,” questions why Facebook recently deemed offensive and removed photos of mothers breast-feeding, but allowed pages lauding Mafiosi.
More than 23,000 people have joined “In Honor of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino and Their Police Escort,” which celebrates Mr. Borsellino and Mr. Falcone, another high-profile anti-Mafia judge who was killed by the Mafia in a bomb attack in 1992.
On another site, one member quoted Mr. Falcone as saying: “Men die, but their ideas remain. Their moral struggles remain, and they continue to walk with the legs of other men.”
And on their Facebook pages.