Al-Qaeda and marketers hi-jack Facebook

22 Dec 2008

The old saying goes: ‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’. However, as Facebook users might have learned in the past few days, enemies may be closer than you think.

As it emerged that terrorist group Al-Qaeda plans to use the popular social-networking site for propaganda purposes, another group of opportunists had propaganda ideas of their own, setting up fake friend groups to lure potential graduates into various job and marketing ploys.

A fresh scandal bubbled across the US over the weekend after it emerged that ‘Class of 2013’ groups for various universities and colleges had been established on Facebook by individuals who had nothing to do with the academic institutions.

Rather, these were established by individuals who wanted to lure existing students to join the groups so they could then market career opportunities and other services/products to the students.

The hoaxes were spotted by astute admissions staff of a number of universities, who twigged that many of these groups were being set up by the same individuals or friend profiles.

Groups began appearing on Facebook for the future alumni of 2013 featuring actual college logos and crests, and students and administrators alike began to smell a rat.

The hoax could potentially have handed identities of over one million new college entrants to marketers for their nefarious purposes.

Very soon a hunt was under way and a Google Docs spreadsheet had been compiled of the individuals suspected of orchestrating the hoax, which is understood to have been a potential trap for data collection and marketing purposes.

Soon after, users who were subscribers to Twitter also began to ‘tweet’ about the efforts of the perpetrators to cover their tracks by removing the logos and crests from the group identities.

Eventually, an individual calling himself Luke Skurman wrote on the blog of Brad Ward, co-ordinator for electronic communication in Butler University’s admissions office and an instigator of the witchunt, admitting his company College Prowlers had crossed the line with its viral marketing efforts.

Until now, colleges allowed students to set up their own alumni groups, but that practice may change following the scandal over fake aliases created by marketers.

If the activity wasn’t enough, it emerged in recent days that notorious terrorist group Al-Qaeda is planning to use Facebook for its own propaganda purposes.

Details have been leaked onto Al-Fajola message board outlining plans by the terrorist organisation to spread propaganda, as well as put up step-by-step videos and videos about suicide bombers on the site. Al-Qaeda has already used YouTube for such activities and plans to target Facebook next.

With friends like these …

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years