Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The mafia go online – Facebook still in the firing line

Facebook gets more free publicity as the debate rages around the company’s decision to enforce strict guidlines regarding what can and can’t be shown in breastfeeding photos posted by users to their personal pages. A storm in a prurient teacup, according to many given the other issues cropping up with the popular social network platform, particularly in Italy.

The Times, as well as most major Italian newspapers, reports that there are a number of prominent facebook profiles/pages setup in the names of leading Mafiosi including Toto Riina, Bernardo Provenzano, and Matteo Messina Denaro .  These pages have a large number of fans subscribed to them, and various messages of approval – something which is hard to stomach for the numerous victims of the mafia.

Facebook has yet to take action on any of these mafia profiles, although it has in a number of cases closed profiles/pages set up by neo-nazis. While there may be some ambiguity about neo-facism in today’s Italy, it’s a relatively easy calculation for an international company to make – hosting race-hatred fascists doesn’t do anything for a company’s image.

The ambiguity surrounding the Mafia is, however, international. From the films of Francis Ford Copola and Martin Scorsese through to the sucess of tv shows like the Sopranos, and various computer games, the Mafia’s dubious appeal is almost respectable and certainly not commercially threatening.

In Italy, in particular, it’s hard to point the finger primarily at Facebook for the glorification of the Mafia. Former prime-minister Giulio Andreotti after all was found by magistrates to have had dealings with the Mafia prior to 1980 (for which the statue of limitations saved him a conviction). It’s also a country where during last year’s election campaign Silbio Berlusconi’s advisor Marcello Dell’Utri, himself found guilty on the first hearing of associating with the mafia (the trial continues), described a convicted mafioso Vittorio Mangano as a ‘hero'[2]. A slight uproar followed, and Berlusconi confirmed Dell’Utri’s judgement on Mangano – and was elected nonetheless.

There are two interesting points to make, though, about the presence of these pages on Facebook. 

The first is the appearance of comments on the pages that, according to Salvatore Borsellino (brother of the assasinated anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino) contain detailed and misleading information regarding various trials:

“There are messages that attempt to call into question certain sentences passed by the courts. Let’s not forget – he says- that one of the main aims of the godfathers has long been that of obtaining a reversal of the trials. I think that on Facebook agents are working on a precise operation of disinformation. They act behind photos and identities of young people, but they’re anything but. How do they know so much about the inquests regarding Riina and above all about his accomplices already in jail?”[2]

Spreading disinformation can only be effective, though, if you have either friends where it counts. The decision to overturn any sentences can only come from high-places, but disinformation can certainly lay the ground. 

The use of Facebook in such a manner throws up the second point. It doesn’t particularly worry me that groups of idiots think it’s cool to sign up as fans of Riina on Facebook. A huge amount of what is done on Facebook is stupid, childish and in poor taste – so what? What is more important is the importance that search engines like Google naturally give to Facebook. Do a search for Riina, Provenzano, or Denaro in and relatively high listings appear for these fake facebook pages. With some clever search engine optimisation work they could, no-doubt, make their way up into the first couple of results.  

The good news, though, is of course that exactly the same methods can be used by people wishing to set the record straight.  It’s heartening as well to see that the ‘Scarceriamo Toto Riina’ (release Toto Riina) group on Facebook has a paltry 316 fans, compared to the 216,450 fans of the Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino and other heroes group.


1. ”Mangano eroe”, Berlusconi: ”Dell’Utri dice bene” – 9/04/008

2. “Ci sono messaggi che tentano di mettere in discussione sentenze già passate in giudicato. Non dimentichiamo – dice – che uno dei progetti principali dei padrini è ormai da anni quello di ottenere la revisione dei processi. Credo che su Facebook stiano operando agenzie ben precise di disinformazione. Agiscono dietro le foto e le identità di giovanissimi, ma non sono tali. Come fanno a sapere così tante cose sulle inchieste che hanno riguardato Riina e soprattutto i suoi complici già in galera? Uno soprattutto, il funzionario dei servizi segreti Bruno Contrada”.  – Facebook rifiuta di censurare i gruppi di sostegno a Riina , La Repubblica 5/01/2009.