Jan 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.
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