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MH17 Disaster Exploited By Scammers

False Memorial Pages Divert Mourners To Porn

The crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, already an event mourned internationally by those both close to those involved and by sympathetic observers, has been hijacked by scammers and hackers seeking to exploit the disaster for commercial gain.


Pages on Facebook set up in memory of the victims have been spammed by links purporting to be videos of the crash which in fact lead to pornographic websites which ask viewers to call a toll number to confirm that they are over 18. Similarly, tweets claiming to be reports of the disaster have been sent out which actually link to spam sites.

In one case a Facebook page was set up ostensibly in memory of one of the crash victims, Liam Sweeney, on which the sole post was a false link to a video of the MH17 disaster which in fact took viewers to a pornographic website. In addition three false pages superficially dedicated to children who died in the crash were set up which actually led to spam sites.

While many of these links are automated, attaching trending hashtags to messages leading readers to spam or pornographic sites, the use of Mr. Sweeney’s name and image suggests that there is considered malicious intent behind some of the cases.

The same public enthusiasm which allowed news and goodwill regarding the crash to spread so quickly is piggybacked on by these scammers; often in the rush of unverified news the search for genuine information necessitates moving away from established sources. It is here that people are most vulnerable, when they do not consider that such a situation could be manipulated for monetary gain or where their grief overrides good sense.

Both Facebook and Twitter have stated that they will take action against those accounts judged to be spam, and encourage users to report false links. However, in the rush to both express condolences and to seek fresh information even links which have been reported may be encountered by many users before the sites’ teams have time to take action.

Many of the spam links are not explicitly false, as in the case of those leading to pornographic sites. Rather, some seek simply to gain advertising revenue by leading users to a page under false pretences.

Part of the issue is that information on this disaster is even more scarce than usual due to the circumstances surrounding it. The fact that there were no survivors or witnesses, combined with the tumultuous political situation in the region, means that any piece of information is especially valuable and (for some) no source is too apparently disreputable to discourage investigation.


Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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MH17 Disaster Exploited By Scammers Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Rating: 5
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