Mutant Facebook Groups: Yet Another Social Media Hazard You Need to Know About

Every time I read some PR maven forecast that social media spells the end of PR I always laugh. Far from putting flacks out of work, social media tools like Facebook and Twitter actually create more work, generating or adapting content, monitoring and watching out for hidden dangers. Communications professionals in the old days never had to worry about domain name or typo squatting, and they didn’t have to worry about fake Twitter accounts in their name.

And they certainly didn’t have to worry about Mutant Facebook Groups. This is a new danger where someone creates a new Facebook group with some generally acceptable scope, such as “Keep Facebook Free”. Then, when millions have signed up, the administrator changes the group name and description to something like “Let’s Eat Human Flesh!”.

Can’t happen? Yes it can and it did this week. A person or persons unknown created a number of groups in Italy with titles like “Support the Victims of the Abruzzo Earthquake” and “Support Made in Italy”. Then during the night these were transformed into sites supporting Italy’s controversial premier, Silvio Berlusconi. The biggest – the earthquake support group – had two million members, who suddenly found themselves on Monday to be members of “SolidarietĂ  a Silvio Berlusconi”, a now pro-Berlusconi site. When the sun rose they left the group as fast as they could, but furious both at the scammers who organized the mutation and also the management of Facebook.

In fairness I have to admit that there is no evidence that Berlusconi or his party has anything to do with this. Local media suspect that the original Facebook groups were created by the owners of an internet auction site just to build web traffic. Possibly the midnight mutation was also conceived as a way to get the whole world to visit these groups.

So what’s the downside for the communications community? To begin with you need to be more careful about the groups you join, but more importantly it means that people are likely to be more wary about joining your group just in case it suddenly mutates. You need to be more careful to assure people that the group, fan page or whatever you create for your clients are authentic. At the same time you need to keep one eye always on the social media communities, watching for suspicious activity: before this event a Facebook search for Berlusconi turned up anti-Berlusconi pages first; the next day they were buried by the mutants. A simple search can therefore give you a warning that something is wrong, so you can take corrective action quickly and effectively. Always more work…


Diego Agostini said…
Absolutely right, Andrew. I am, as italian, totally asthonished and worry for everything is happening in my country.
We have a real and great problem of freedom.
I hope that everyone outside Italy could understand this. Thank you for your post.

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