By Alec Liu
Swirling rumors that pedophiles are behind a viral Facebook campaign are unfounded, according to a company spokesman.
The campaign, which has been actively gaining momentum in the past month, urges users to swap a cartoon character for their usual profile picture and boasts more than 150,000 "likes" among its Facebook pages. The campaign was originally thought to be the work of a children’s advocacy group, but rumors sweeping across the web suggest it's actually a front for pedophiles, said London tabloid The Daily Mail.
The typical message warns in no uncertain terms, "FRAUDALERT: The group asking everyone to change their profile pictures to their favorite cartoon character is actually a group of pedophiles." Facebook spokesman Simon Axten was quick to squash the claims.
"This rumor is false," he told FoxNews.com. "Thousands of people have taken up the campaign, none of whom can be identified as either young or old based on the profile picture chosen."
Facebook users disagree, noting that users do give away potentially vital information based on which cartoon character they choose. "The pedophiles have it easy finding the kids this way -- from a cartoon in your past," noted one user. "Obviously if someone posts Spongebob Square Pants it’s probably a kid."
"Groups like the NSPCC in the UK, while not responsible for the campaign, have welcomed the attention it's drawn to the cause of protecting children," Axten pointed out.
Kids are especially vulnerable, since Facebook users can message one another so easily, said Hemanshu Nigam, co-chairman of President Obama's Online Safety Technology Working Group and a member of the board of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"It would give just another interesting topic for an offender to talk to a young teenager about," he told FoxNews.com.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) was quick to refute its involvement, leaving the campaign's origins a mystery. "Although the NSPCC did not originate the childhood cartoon Facebook campaign, we welcome the attention it has brought to the work we do," the group tweeted.
But many are skeptical of the rumor’s merit, with media blog Gawker calling it "the stupidest rumor I have ever heard."
Know Your Meme speculates that it originally began as a subversive game thought up by Greek users. Roughly translated into English, the original message read: "From the 16th to the 20th of November, we shall change our profile pictures to our favorite cartoon characters. The purpose of this game is to remove all photos of humans for a few days from Facebook."
Urban legends reference site Snopes.com deduces that the spread of the story mirrors the transformation of an earlier campaign involving bra colors. That Facebook program started as "a leg-pull intended to puzzle men" but morphed into a good cause, raising awareness for breast cancer. Snopes notes that it was later repositioned as a "devious plot to trick women into divulging the color of their bras."
Whether or not the rumors prove true, an inherent security issue remains, Nigam told FoxNews.com.
"The core of the issue isn’t whether the campaign was created by pedophiles or not. None of that is as significant as the ability to directly message underage children."
Tuesday, December 7, 2010