Merthe Weusthuis had been hoping for a small celebration with just a few friends, but failing to make the Facebook event private destroyed any hopes of a quiet gathering.
To Merthe’s dismay, the invitation soon went viral, going out to an estimated 30,000 people. A number of websites were set up highlighting the party, some of which referenced Project X, a movie about a suburban birthday party that spins out of control. But the mischief makers didn’t leave it at that. A Twitter account and YouTube video also hit the Web, inviting party-goers to “be there.”
Fearing the worst, Merthe fled her hometown. And judging by what happened Friday night, she was wise to do so.
An estimated 3,000 party revelers descended on Haren, population just 18,000. As things got out of control, police moved in to disperse the crowd, but in the process were reportedly pelted with stones and bottles. The situation deteriorated further, with stores vandalized and looted and a car set on fire. Road signs and street lights were also said to have been wrecked.
Police, who had been expecting large crowds to turn up, reportedly made 20 arrests.
“[Merthe] posted the invitation on Facebook and sent it to friends, who then sent it to other friends and soon it spread like wildfire across the Internet,” police spokeswoman Melanie Zwama told AFP before Friday night.
An incident of this nature isn’t the first, and is unlikely to be the last. In 2011 a girl in Australia was forced to cancel her 16th birthday party after her invitation sent using Facebook went viral, with more than 200,000 people indicating they would be attending the event, scheduled to take place in the girl’s house.
A girl in Germany also saw her Facebook invitation fall into the hands of thousands of people, resulting in some 1,500 revelers turning up to her birthday party. Fortunately, in that incident, there were no reports of trouble.
Perhaps users of the social networking site need to be a little more careful when using it to send out party invitations, unless, of course, their home is able to accommodate hundreds of thousands of guests, in which case it should be just fine.