Pranking with History: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Facebook… Not

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Filed under: Political Pranks

Prankster Playing Bhutto's Son on Facebook Fools News Outlets
By Mike Nizza
The New York Times
January 2, 2007

Images of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari found on Facebook, a social networking Web site. (Images: Facebook)

When Benazir Bhutto's replacement as party chairman turned out to be her relatively unknown son, reports turned up little beyond his age (19) and occupation (student at Oxford University). In other words, enough facts to warrant a sprint to Facebook, where millions of college students publish troves of personal information.

At first, Facebook did not disappoint in enriching the scant portrait of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Time magazine found a Facebook associate and dorm-mate named Phillippa Neal who confirmed his page under the name "Bilawal Lawalib," an alias to disguise his identity. ("Lawalib" is his first name reversed).

She also relayed some interesting Facebook statements by Mr. Bhutto Zadari, like "Well behaved women rarely make history," and The Guardian's perusal found that "fellow students' Facebook pages reveal him to be a popular student."

London's Evening Standard uncovered the juiciest bit - a photo of him donning a devil costume on Halloween, along with a comment: "We're ready to bring hell on earth. . . waaahahahahahah."

But this Facebook page was "significantly downgraded recently," Ms. Neal told The Lede today in what would seem to be a case of damage control. As Mr. Bhutto Zadari's father, Asif Ali Zardari, explained on Sunday night, "in this country, symbols matter." And a devil costume is no way to present the heir to Benazir Bhutto's political fortunes.

Before signing off for the day, Ms. Neal strongly warned against a competing profile on Facebook: "The other profile has been set up by someone else, not Bilawal!"

She was talking about the one under his real name - "Bilawal Bhutto Zardari" - which began attracting attention from several news sites and blogs today. Here are some of the more prominent articles:

Canada's Globe and Mail and Agence France Presse quoted heavily from a section of jocular statements on Islam:

"What's Islamic extremism? It's strict adherence to a particular interpretation of seventh century Islamic law as practiced by the prophet Mohammed, and when I say 'strict adherence', I'm not kidding around.

"Men are forced to pray, wear their beards a certain length. Among my favorites is there's only one acceptable cheer at a football match: Allah-hu-Akbar. God is great.

"If your guys are getting creamed, then you're on your own,"

– London's Telegraph headlined his admission that "I am not a born leader."

– Australia's ABC News highlighted his prediction that "my time to lead will come." [link removed]

– Radar Magazine and Huffington Post promoted some of the goofy details sprinkled throughout the profile: "Bhutto Boy Shows Buffy Facebook Love."

– And MTV News took a little bit of all of the above. [link blacked out]

As it turned out, Ms. Neal was right - the author of the profile was not Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, but rather an Internet prankster who calls himself Tonay and who appears to have chronicled the caper on a vulgarity-strewn bulletin board. "I made an account pretending to be him," his thread began.

"Since this is basically the first time the guy has come into the public eye, nobody has made an account for him," he continued, "so I quickly registered one, and just been addin [sic] stuff to the profile."

The jocular quotes on Islam mentioned above (which were lifted directly from an old episode of "The West Wing") and references to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" apparently had no point aside from sparking laughs from other bulletin board users searching the Web for more articles citing the Facebook page.

They also urged Tonay to "cause as much mayhem as you can before the world finds out! Hurry!!!" But no further mayhem would be caused before the prank met its inevitable end.

Of course, it is against Facebook policy to post phony profiles, and the page was shut down this afternoon along with another after its own investigation prompted by tips from users. From an e-mailed statement from Brandee Barker, company spokeswoman:

After investigating the accounts in question, we have disabled both Facebook profiles associated with names Bilawal Bhutto and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. We found they were not authentic and violated the site's Terms of Use. Typically we examine a range of criteria to determine whether a profile is authentic, including reports from users, profile content, the e-mail associated with an account, length of time the account has been open and network affiliations.

Or in Tonay's words: "Noo, they've taken the page down! Ah well, good whilst it lasted."

Now we'll see how long the false reports last out there on the Web.

Miguel Helft contributed reporting.