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Occupy Facebook: A new era for spam and unjustified activism?

Since Friday, thousands of Egyptians have taken to spamming dozens of official public pages on Facebook. The walls and inboxes of action-movie star Vin Diesel, Barak Obama and Israel, among others, have been bombarded by tens of thousands of comments. Before disabling the option to do so Saturday evening, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was also a target.

So insistent are the attacks that some victims have taken to begging the Egyptian community to, quote: “Pleeeeeaaassseeeeee!!! STTOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPPP!!! :’(“

According to those involved, it started with Vin Diesel’s trip to Egypt, after which pictures of the trip, particularly one with him standing flexed in Cairo, instigated sarcastic comments, such as one giving a lost-looking Vin Diesel directions to the nearest voting station, or quoting him as looking for al-Sayed al-Essawy, the self proclaimed Egyptian lion fighter. But the gestures went a little haywire, to put it mildly, and soon spread to other pages.

The phenomenon is now being referred to on Twitter as "#occupyfacebook," but what’s concerning is that it has no real encompassing meaning, because what started out as light-hearted Egyptian humor, has also given rise to harsh political assaults on Israel and Obama’s pages. Some of the content could be considered justifiable, often referring to the mass quantities of tear gas imported from the US used on protesters in November’s clashes. However, elsewhere, straight up threats of homicide and genocide have also surfaced.

Other comments, though, are simply hilarious. Some spammers offer Obama extremely detailed and lengthy advice on how to make the perfect Om Aly and/or Zalabya (traditional Egyptian desserts) in order to improve his political ratings. Others have coined the phrase, "Kolena Tom Cruise" (We are all Tom Cruise), referring to the Khaled Said page that helped fuel the 25 January uprising.

But the mix of humor and unwarranted hate, which has now led to hundreds and thousands of posts in less than three days, has upset many Facebook and Twitter users for reasons ranging from undermining the page’s initial purpose to embarrassing Egyptians during sensitive times – leading some people to apologize profusely to page owners for the disturbance.

“There are other places to be funny,” writes Sherine Morsi, an online objector to the phenomenon on Facebook. “[The humor] is masking all the hatred, and is frightening. I am so sorry for this Obama.”

But these objections are often buried by both the fast rate that the spam is occurring, as well as by observers cheering it on.

Additionally, more goal-oriented spammers are now also joining in. They start small brainstorming pages with the intention of shutting down and taking over other pages. They post "demands," and state that they won’t go away and will multiply endlessly until "demands" are met.

“We will not stop until Obama’s page with 24 million subscribers is taken over and/or deleted,” declare owners of the newly created "Occupy Obama" page.

Rumors have begun to spread that Mark Zuckerberg is planning to block many Egyptian accounts. In a statement written on the "We Are All Khaled Said" page, one person objects to Zuckerberg's alleged intentions, pleading with the Facebook founder not to block accounts. The tone, at once formal and sarcastic, parodies those of recent statements from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

But for now, it seems that thousands of people are continuing to enjoy themselves, with no intention of stopping anytime soon. In fact, the rate at which posts are appearing has even increased in the past week, with one supporter proclaiming on his Twitter account that "#occupyfacebook is the highlight of my week.”

It looks like many Egyptian spammers are looking to tap into the same kind of patience, persistence and strength in numbers that enabled Mubarak’s ouster.

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