Leading Italian anti-mafia activists expressed alarm on Monday that Facebook pages dedicated to praise of some of Cosa Nostra's most notorious and bloody bosses have attracted hundreds of young admirers.
"Fan clubs" of such jailed mafia bosses as Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006 after nearly four decades on the run, and Toto Riina, nabbed in 1993 after 24 years at large, have appeared on Italian pages of the social networking site.
"What worries us is that the great majority of people who have adhered to these pages are young," Tonio Dell'Olio, a leader of the anti-mafia group Libera (Free), told Reuters Television.
Libera is involved in many anti-mafia activities, including acquiring farms and buildings confiscated from the mafia and using them for social good, such as schools and drug rehabilitation centers.
One of the most vocal opponents of the Facebook pages is Rita Borsellino, sister of magistrate Paolo Borsellino who was killed by a mafia car bomb in 1993. The bombing was ordered by Riina and Provenzano.
"Even though negative heroes have always been fascinating for some (in literature and film), we have to take this very seriously," she told Reuters by telephone from the Sicilian capital Palermo.
"An instrument like Facebook, which is universal and can be used by anyone, should make an examination of conscience and give itself some rules instead of making heroes out of these murderers," she said.
Borsellino said that just as Italy has laws that ban being a Nazi or Fascist apologist, there should be laws against those who praise or defend the mafia.
Since a national newspaper wrote about the Facebook pages last week, Italian magistrates have said that those who join the groups could in principle be investigated on suspicion of aiding and abetting organized crime.
One Facebook group dedicated to praising Riina — who was so ruthless he was known as "The Beast" — appears to have shut itself down temporarily after it wound up on the pages of Italian newspapers.
Anti-mafia activists are divided over whether the pages should be blacked out or censored.
"We don't think that we can get a good result by banning these activities. We should instead fight them by providing other models," said Dell'Olio.
Borsellino said she was very heartened that after getting publicity in the media, the pro-mafia Facebook groups have spawned anti-mafia groups.