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Will Facebook be hurt by protests against 'Everybody Draw Mohammad Day'?

Probably not. Even if protesters on both sides of the 'Everybody Draw Mohammad Day' fracas manage to organize a concerted boycott, it's unlikely it would be enough to really make a dent in Facebook traffic.

By Matthew Shaer / May 20, 2010

Veiled female Pakistani activists of hardline party Jamaat-i-Islami carry placards and banners during a protest in Islamabad on May 20. The women are protesting caricatures of Prophet Mohammad published on the Facebook group 'Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.'

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Less than a week ago, "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" was just one artist's idea of a joke. By this afternoon, it had become a worldwide media event – the inspiration for street protests, fodder for cable news networks, and ammunition for armies of angry Facebook users who have vowed to boycott the popular social network. So could "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" do any lasting damage to Facebook?

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Probably not.

Here's some background: Comedy Central recently aired an episode of South Park that showed the Prophet Mohammad in a bear suit. After Muslim viewers became furious, Comedy Central yanked the offending scenes; many viewers cried foul. One of those viewers was Molly Norris, an artist living in Seattle. Norris made a fake poster declaring May 20 "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day."

Then someone went and made a Facebook group with the same name. (Norris has disavowed all involvement with the group, and even encouraged her fans to join a Facebook group protesting "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.") At first, a few hundred fans joined. Then a few thousand. As we publish this post, the membership of "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" has swelled to just under 100,000 Facebook users.

Meanwhile, several Facebook groups have sprung up in protest, and in Pakistan, Islamists have succeeded in convincing a Pakistani court to order a temporary ban of Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, mobile Blackberry services, and a number of other websites.

"Everyone should take care not to hurt other's religious sentiments. The actions of Facebook are against our constitution and penal code," Mohammad Azhar Siddique, one of the lawyers who petitioned the High Court for the ban, told a Monitor correspondent today.

The question now is whether Facebook – which stands at the middle of the tempest – will bear the brunt of anger on both sides of the "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" divide. Already, plenty of folks have called for a boycott of Facebook.

"It is incompant [sic] on every Muslim to boycut [sic] facebook [sic]. It is clear that everything has an alternative and competition. Muslims should promote businesses and sites that practice freedom of religion, tollerance [sic], and respect of others," a Monitor reader wrote today in the comments section of an article about "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day."

But Facebook is a sprawling website, with millions and millions of members. Even if a discontented few managed to organize a boycott, it's unlikely that the noise would be loud enough to make a dent in Facebook traffic. As we have reported in the past, Facebook is always under one kind of fire or another – for site updates, for security problems, for redesigns. And it always comes out unscathed.

Are we wrong? Talk to us in the comments section. But please, try not to shout.

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