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Project X Haren: Merthe Weusthuis’ Facebook party invite triggers mayhem in Dutch town

Jordana Divon
Shine On
September 24, 2012

A fact of modern social life: RSVPing through social networks holds no one accountable. Any time you create a Facebook invitation, expect around half your guests to show up by the end of the night.

But here's a different, more troubling scenario. If you fail to make those Facebook invite settings private, you now run the risk of having your house party transformed into city-wide anarchy.

As the Telegraph reports, that's the hard lesson Dutch teenager Merthe Weusthuis learned on the eve of her 16th birthday.

Weusthuis had planned to have a few school friends over for a low-key birthday celebration. She gave them party details via the popular social networking site, including her family's home address in Haren — a small, well-heeled town in the Netherlands.

But one key oversight soon generated the chaos that was to come. The teenager forgot to mark the invitation "private," meaning anyone with an internet connection could see the details.

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"She 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," Groningen police spokeswoman Melanie Zwama tells AFP news agency.

By the weekend, 30,000 people had confirmed their attendance.

This isn't the first time a teen's party plans have been hijacked by dubious online forces.

The trend started with the release of Project X — a movie about three high school students whose house party spirals out of control after one boy advertises the event on Craigslist.

In Canada, police have quashed several Project X-style parties this year.

Most notoriously, Calgary student Hunter Mills promoted buddy Kris Morrey's party on Twitter under the hashtag #projectkris.

The party attracted the attention of thousands as the details got retweeted all over the world. It also attracted the attention of local police, who took the matter seriously enough to notify Morrey's mother and move the party to a nightclub venue.

Last month, as CBC notes, RCMP quashed a similar party that was rumoured to hit a quiet Langley, B.C. town.

But Dutch police weren't as prepared. An estimated 5,000 people flooded into Haren on Friday, sporting t-shirts with "Project X Haren" emblazoned on the front.

Though the festivities reportedly began in "good humour," the mood shifted once revelers learned the girl had been shipped to a "safe retreat" and the house party had been canceled.

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By nightfall, the drunk and emboldened crowd began to riot, vandalizing and looting stores, damaging street signs and bicycles, and even setting fire to a car.

"It was all done by a group of nutcases," a Haren resident tells a Dutch broadcaster. "I just don't understand it."

Six people were sent to hospital with injuries that ranged from broken bones to cuts with broken glass. To date, 34 people have been arrested and police have released video footage in hopes of identifying more rioters.

Similar to the Vancouver riots, the senseless destruction has spurred concerned citizens into action.

As of Monday, more than 33,000 people have signed up to attend a much different kind of Facebook party.

This one, listed as "Project Clean-X Haren" is inviting people to flood into Haren for a very different kind of event.

Photos of "attendees" hauling trash and replanting flowers have already been posted on the page.

And unlike Weusthuis' ill-fated soiree, this party is definitely intended for the public.

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