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The seedy side of social networking

A secret online men's club on Facebook has raised questions over social network privacy.

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THREE North Melbourne footballers have been caught up in the controversy over a men-only Facebook group that posts revealing photographs of young women without their consent.

The players - Jack Ziebell, Hamish McIntosh and Robbie Tarrant - are among about 8000 men said to have joined "The Brocial Network" since its launch just a fortnight ago.

But as controversy swirled around the site yesterday, North Melbourne insisted its players had been conscripted without their permission or knowledge. The players have since removed themselves as group members.

And there was speculation last night that The Brocial Network may have already been blocked or shut down - less than 24 hours after The Age revealed its existence. A member, who asked not to be named, said he could no longer get access.

The exposure of the site has prompted an outcry. Women whose photos were secretly posted expressed fury and complained about being harassed online by strangers who had viewed the images.
The Age's exposure of the group also appeared to prompt a flurry of online activity yesterday, with the group's operators restricting access  and policing the postings of members, while at least two rival groups for women emerged.

North Melbourne said its players were  advised to check their Facebook accounts yesterday for any links to the group, and to remove themselves immediately if they found themselves to be members.

Within an hour, McIntosh, Ziebell and Tarrant told the club they had unwittingly become members. "These players were added to the group without their consent. The players are no longer on the group's list," North media manager Heath O'Loughlin told The Age. "We will be contacting Facebook to find out how this has occurred," he said.

"At this stage we are not concerned that any of our players have acted inappropriately."

O'Loughlin said he had not asked the players whether they had used the site: "We haven't really gone down that path yet."

North pointed The Age to an article on geekosystem.com detailing a flaw in Facebook security that enables members to be added to online groups without their consent.

The AFL said last night it had no evidence that any player had acted inappropriately. But it was investigating how many players and clubs might be implicated. "We would be concerned if any players were putting up photos, or were actively involved in a forum that appears to objectify and degrade women,"  AFL football operations boss Adrian Anderson said.

North Melbourne has had a sharpened awareness of the perils of social media since the 2009 "Chickengate affair", in which a video simulating abuse of women was made by former  captain Adam Simpson and current player Daniel Pratt and posted online.

North players have since been  counselled around the league's "Respect and Responsibility" policy, and Pratt is an ambassador for the White Ribbon anti-violence campaign.

Before The Brocial Network disabled viewing access of its membership yesterday, The Age viewed pages that confirmed McIntosh and Ziebell as members. It is believed that a fourth North player was also on a member list, but the club said it was unaware of that.

The creator of the site, who calls himself King Brocial, was yesterday policing posts by members after some put up nude images of women,   apparently in violation of group  rules.

Naming of photographed women  was also being discouraged, with "King Brocial" threatening a member with exile if he failed to remove two names.

A women-only Facebook group, "The Brocial Network Revenge", was yesterday the subject of  online abuse from men.   Among the comments were that  the women have "brought this on [themselves]" and  "women...  should just stay in the kitchen".

The women's group creator, who asked not to be named, said it was   "a place for us to vent and discuss the fact that it is ridiculous that nothing can legally be done about  [The Brocial Network] or the people in it".

Another group for women,     "Hot Melbourne Men", has been created in response to The Brocial Network as a joke among friends, according to its creator,   who identified herself as Eva.  She said she wasn't fazed that her image was taken from her  Facebook page and  circulated on the Brocial site.