INTERNET - CRIME

Anger at pro-Mafia groups on Facebook

Groups idolising Mafia bosses have appeared on the social Internet site Facebook in recent weeks, attracting numerous young fans. The online controversy has caused a stir in Italy, where a petition is calling for the closure of the site.

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in Rome

The mobilisation of magistrates and tens of thousands of Italian Internet users has led to the suspension of several groups celebrating top Mafia bosses on the social network Facebook.

Some 5,000 fans had become members of the group “Riina, the boss of the bosses” on Facebook, supporting Toto Riina, the former boss sentenced to twelve life sentences for multiple murder. Before the group disappeared from computer screens on Thursday, members had published messages calling Riina a “man of honour” or a “misunderstood” boss before virtually kissing his hand as a mark of respect.

Bernardo Provenzano, a boss arrested in 2006 after living four decades in hiding, also has seen several groups glorifying his name and criminal career. His “Fan Club” page on Facebook was created to “honour someone who had tricked the state for 40 years”. His founders have suspended the page “to avoid infiltration from moralists”. But there are still 268 members who unashamedly invoke sainthood for Provenzano.

Salvatore Borsellino, brother of the famous anti-mafia judge killed in 1992, is worried about the recent proliferation of such sites, even though they are often short lived.

“It is a precise campaign of disinformation trying to delegitimise the magistrates and all those who are looking for the truth in the mysteries left by Riina and Provenzano”, said Borsellino to La Repubblica newspaper. “Let’s not forget that, for years now, one of the main aims of the Mafia, has been to have their trials revised.”

Facebook officials have said that they are against censorship and have refused so far to intervene against those Mafia fan groups, provoking anger in Italy.

Petition for the closure of Facebook

The mobilisation against those pages comes from within the social network. Tens of thousands of Facebook users are now joining groups such as “Either them or us” or “Mafia out of Facebook”. On Friday morning, the latter claimed 124,000 members, massively outnumbering the pro-Mafia pages.

A petition has been published on the Internet to request the closure of Facebook for “complicity in vindicating crimes”, which is an offence in Italy.

Its initiator, Giuseppe A., who asked for his identity to be protected, told FRANCE 24: "It is unacceptable that this kind of thing happens in Italy, that there isn’t a minimum of control from the site’s administrators. We must promote the culture of respect and legality against the culture of blood and fear that the Mafia bosses want to impose on Sicily and the rest of Italy.”

According to magistrates specialised in fighting organised crime, the recruitment of young supporters through the Internet could provide a new weapon for the Mafia to fight the state.

Pietro Grasso, the head of Italy’s anti-Mafia unit, believes the trend is worrying. “Mafiosi are very quick in moving in the global world”, he says. “They adapt faster to new trends.”

But 20-year-old Stefano Gobbetti, a former member of the “Salvatore Riina” group on Facebook, told FRANCE 24 that “that space is not a fan club, nor an encouragement to take up arms, nor to kill to take power.”

“It is true that I have always been fascinated by the Mafia culture in general, through films and video games”, he says. “But I don’t think I have committed a crime by opening that space. Why so much trouble when hundreds of other sites celebrate drunkenness or the consumption of drugs?”

 

Fearing prosecution, Gobbetti has since announced he had pulled out of the group.

Palermo’s magistrates say they are closely following the situation and could open an enquiry.
 

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