Amid deadly protests in Syria against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, some of his supporters have taken to Facebook to defend their leader of over a decade, whose father ruled for the previous 29 years, until his death in 2000. On a page purporting to be from Columbia University, hundreds of Assad supporters have posted messages in English, voicing general support like, “Long live president bashar al assad,” and speaking out against U.S. involvement in the uprising. “The Syrian support for the reform process led by President Bashar al-Assad was the result of absolute confidence in his ability to build developed Syria can keep up with the civilized countries,” reads one recent message. The only problem: Columbia’s real Facebook is here, and has no such messages.
On the fake university page, one man blames the “Syrian Electronic Army” for the raid, but explains that Columbia is not the only page to be targeted. Barack Obama and French president Nicolas Sarkozy have also seen their walls seized by Syrians. As noted by the Washington Post, it’s possible that Columbia became a target because of a quote in The Wall Street Journal from Hamid Dabashi, a Columbia professor of Iranian studies, who said that both Syria and Iran are “exposed.”
But what no one involved seems to have realized is that the reason the flurry of posts remains untouched by Columbia’s Facebook administrators is that the university has nothing to do with the page they picked. (The bogus page does boast 12,585 “likes.”) We talked to Columbia’s Director of Media Relations Robert Hornsby, who noted that their actual page is totally clean. The Syrian Electronic Army seems to have pointed its followers to the wrong place. (Old posts indicate that the Assad fans weren’t the only ones confused; Columbia students used the unofficial page accidentally, too.)
The pro-Assad group has had its own Facebook pages deleted repeatedly, according to one anti-Assad commenter, but continues to pop up again. A recent group can be seen here, and counts over 2,400 followers. According to the anti-Assad poster, the Electronic Army “has made it its mission to mass-spam pages of various foreign newspapers, universities and international bodies with endless broken-English, pro-Assad platitudes.”
One pro-Assad online protester told us via Facebook message, “We want to send our voices to all the world,” and seemed untroubled by the illegitimacy of the Columbia page. He explained that the attack was not limited to the university and pointed us to multiple Arabic pages that are also being swarmed by Assad supporters. He insisted that the campaign is “not [an] attack. I only send my voice.”