Pranksters recently hijacked the Facebook pages of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and others with a new trick called “letterbombing”. The result was that, for a brief time, the profile pictures of commenters on the wall spelled out “KEEP FEAR ALIVE” in large capital letters down the side of the page. As well as Beck and Palin, The Daily Beast reports that the low-tech cyber-vandalism also targeted the Facebook pages of FOX News, Jon Stewart (Colbert’s faux rival at Comedy Central) and bizarrely, Justin Bieber.
The idea behind letterbombing is that it’s an easy but subversive way to spread any message on the internet. Users who are in on the joke will post dummy messages and once the flow of messages is uninterrupted, they’ll change their profile picture to a letter so that it spells a word vertically. In this case, the pranksters chose “KEEP FEAR ALIVE” as the message in reference to comedian Stephen Colbert’s rally in Washington DC this weekend but also because they figured text worked in its own right, even if people didn’t know about the rally.
The technique is low tech and perfectly legal, although obviously any messages can be deleted by page administrators. The admins for Beck’s site reportedly deleted the offending posts within a minute but the messages on Palin’s site remained in place for almost an hour.
It reminds me somewhat of the problems food giant Nestlé faced when protesters swarmed its Facebook page to leave negative messages about the company’s practices with sourcing palm oil or marketing baby formula. They didn’t use letterbombing but many people changed their profile pics to show anti-Nestlé imagery, such as altered versions of the company’s logo.
The letterbombing idea was the brain child of Jeff Greenspan, Chris Baker and Danny Adrain at ad agency BBDO but it didn’t really take off for corporate ad campaigns so they decided to use it for their own amusement instead. Anyone who wishes to try letterbombing for themselves can download the tools – a zip file with the letters – from letterbombing.comand then gather a group of friends together to pull the prank.
The letterbombing website has a video on how to do this, which we have embedded below. The video is entitled “Letterbombing in Colbert’s name”, though a Colbert spokesperson told USA Today they didn’t endorse vandalism.