As Syrian security forces continued to crack down on protesters Tuesday despite the Eid al-Fitr holiday, killing seven, supporters of the regime launched their own attack on a Facebook page that looks like it belongs to Columbia University
Dozens of posts filled the page, many of them by the same users repeating the same comments: President Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy, Assad as “an example,” or a post with hearts drawn next to his name.
The attack was reportedly organized by a hacker group called the Syrian Electronic Army, which has previously attacked the pages of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
It was unclear why the hackers selected a page that looked like it was affiliated with Columbia University, although a Columbia professor was quoted speaking negatively about the country’s relationship with Iran in a Wall Street Journal story Tuesday.
Later in the day, several Syrians wrote on the page to apologize for the hacking, with one Homs resident writing: “Hello, I'm a Syrian citizen, I'd like to apologize to your university for the inappropriate posts on your wall... the Syrian President [is] a killer who is responsible for a lot of crimes against humans, from the [bottom] of our hearts, we are deeply sorry for this.”
Tahi Balila, a Syrian who used a photo of recently-attacked Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat as his Facebook profile photo, wrote that he, too, was sorry for the “charade” taking place on the page’s wall.
Balila called the Syrian Electronic Army a group whose mission was to “mass-spam pages of various foreign newspapers, universities and international bodies” with “endless broken-English pro-Assad platitudes.”
Facebook has reportedly shut down the hacker’s page several times, but as of this post, the page is currently up and running.
In an e-mail, Columbia University said the page has no affiliation with the school and they have no control over the contents and no way to have the material removed.
One Facebook user pleaded with the owners of the page not to erase the “trail of stupidity,” sarcastically noting that it could “potentially be used as research material or reference for relative academic work in the future.”